Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Lineman Brandon Brooks is a Mental Health Hero
It’s no secret that National Football League players are tough.
It is not uncommon for someone to play through concussion-like symptoms, sprained ankles, fractured ribs or even play with a cast while healing a broken limb. At times, it is frowned upon for players to sit out a game or practice due to injury when they technically could be playing.
With such a violent sport, it is not surprising that there is an implicit expectation for players to play through injuries.
However, during a recent Philadelphia Eagles game, something happened that we don’t normally hear about. Brandon Brooks, one of the Eagles star offensive lineman, was taken out of the game due to an anxiety attack.
Both ESPN and Yahoo! sports indicate that Brooks has missed a total of 5 games due to symptoms of anxiety.
Despite this happening frequently over the past 3 years, the narrative from fans surrounding Brandon’s removal from the game yesterday has been short-sighted. Playing through physical injuries is dangerous and unhealthy; the same goes for attempting to play through symptoms related to mental illness.
Is it necessary to have a culture where we ignore our body and minds warning signs that things are not right?
It’s vital that we don’t pass off Brooks’ experience and bring more attention to the role mental illness plays in the lives and performance of athletes. The potential risks severe including addiction, deteriorating relationships and poor quality of life.
Anxiety leads to impairment.
Each person who experiences anxiety in their life has different levels of impairment. For Brooks, his impairment at times is significant.
Reports indicate that it is not uncommon for him to get physically sick to his stomach prior to games. At times, he is able to play through the anxiety or the vomiting will stop during the game. Nausea and or vomiting with anxiety is literally the body’s way of reducing the amount of weight we have in our bodies in order for us to survive from perceived danger.
“Is it necessary to have a culture where we ignore our body and minds warning signs that things are not right?”
This reaction appears far more intense than passing anxiety. Along with bodily malfunction, anxiety can cause significant cognitive impairment that reduces the functioning of the brain.
It’s often suggested that people “just get over it” or “don’t worry so much”.
Anxiety is not a weakness. Anxiety is pervasive.
As mentioned, Brooks has been at the very least struggling since 2016, in the public eye.
Anxiety is something that needs maintenance, which he appears to be putting a lot of effort into. Often, anxiety can come in cyclical patterns. It can fluctuate with current life events, major changes in routines or changes in medications.
Much like chronic pain or a physical injury, the likelihood that anxiety never returns is small.
Therefore, we need to treat anxiety more like a chronic physical injury. It requires maintenance and attention, sometimes daily. Anxiety is not something that can always be “pushed through”. Research shows that we have an “optimal level” of anxiety.
However, once the optimal threshold is passed, too much anxiety can be detrimental.
We need to applaud athletes attempting to break the stigma.
From locker rooms to homes, to the stands, talking about and paying attention to athletes with mental illness can help break the stigma of having it.
Anxiety is prevalent in approximately 18% of the adult population. Professional athletes are no different.
They are no more immune to mental health problems than they are physical problems. Brandon’s willingness to reveal his struggle with anxiety is a chance for us to have an educated discussion on anxiety’s impact on athletes and therefore, each of us.
The impact is not limited to a football field.
Often, these symptoms are present in other areas of their lives. It’s integral to the future mental health of athletes that we have these conversations.
In fact, research shows that stigma is the number one reason why athletes don’t seek mental health treatment.
By being open and honest about his struggle, Brandon has afforded us the opportunity to become more educated about mental health. It has given people an insight into the impairment, pervasiveness, and stigma behind mental illness in athletes.
It’s a vitally important step into breaking mental health stigma in athletes. Brandon’s success has shown that anxiety does not have to be career-ending or debilitating.
Rather it should serve as an example. Brandon’s willingness to share his trials and tribulations with anxiety is much needed. We need to actively shift the precedent for athletes of all skill levels and walks of life. Athletes and all of us for that matter, can show support and advocate using people like Brandon as an example.