I was 19 when my therapist reached into the top-left drawer of her desk and handed me a pamphlet on suicide prevention.
It was fall 2017, my freshman year at UF.
If you placed the handout on a scale, it would have come in at less than an ounce. My hands still trembled under its weight.
She gave me that pamphlet out of fear that I wouldn’t make it to next week’s session. I gripped the pamphlet between my thumbs and stared through it for what felt like an eternity. This is what my life came to.
While I never contemplated taking my life, that moment was an all-time low for me. I thought I was invincible for most of my young life, impervious to the depression and anxiety I witnessed in others. That moment made me think differently.
No one is immune to illness, mental or physical.
And because of this, anyone going through battles with mental health deserves a support system. People need to know it’s OK to not be OK.
However, when Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott opened up about his struggles with depression during the 2020 NFL offseason, he was met with criticism by sports journalist and “Undisputed” co-host Skip Bayless.
On Sept. 9, Prescott revealed the passing of his 31-year-old brother Jace Prescott on April 24 had been a suicide. Dak said his brother’s death, along with the effects of COVID-19 and social quarantine, rapidly deteriorated his mental health.
While he said football is his career and passion, he added that he got to the point where he no longer wanted to work out and practice.
Bayless took to his Fox Sports 1 television show and blasted Dak, claiming he’d shown weakness and vulnerability. Bayless said there was no place for softness for the Cowboys signal-caller.
There is an increased stigma surrounding mental health issues for men in particular. We’re supposed to be strong. There is pressure to dull our spectrum of emotions. And don’t we dare shed a tear.
This mindset is wrong. It’s outdated. It’s destructive.
While having conversations about mental health has become more normalized in recent years, Bayless’ remarks only highlight the world’s uncompassionate fire toward mental illness is still ablaze.
Not only is Bayless wrong to condone Dak’s transparency, he also missed the mark on what it means to be a leader.
A leader isn’t stoic, cold and macho. That false definition of leadership originates from generations of insecurity and a lack of empathy.
A true leader is relatable, shows emotion and cares for his or her peers. That’s who Dak is.
He’s doing a great service to his teammates, the NFL and the rest of the world by being honest about what he’s going through. Dak isn’t weak for opening up about his depression. He showed ultimate strength in doing so. Starting the conversation is the first step in healing.
Hopefully, this most recent development in the battle to normalize conversations about mental health helps people understand how important it is to talk about these issues.
Because, while it’s difficult to be honest about our pain, transparency and empathy are our greatest allies.
I’ve come a long way since my lowest point three years ago. But my battles with mental health are still ongoing. I have had off days. I’ve skipped class. I’m guilty of putting on a brave face sometimes. And, there are days where I can’t hit the snooze button enough.
But, I don’t ever wonder if I have a life worth living. Because if you’re here on Earth and breathing, your life is worth it. And life is a beautiful thing.
We’re not perfect. And, it’s important to remember we’re no more than human beings.
However, it’s even more important to remember we’re no less.
Contact Dylan O'Shea at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dylanoshea24.