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  • NFL and Morehouse School of Medicine Team Up on Mental Health

    Many retired professional athletes are tearing down the stigma that surrounds mental health. Often touted for their physical and mental abilities, athletes are seen as superhuman who are immune to pain. “It became a badge of honor to go into the game and hit someone so hard that you rung their bell or your bell was rung,” says Mark Kelso, former defensive back and special teams standout for the Buffalo Bills.

    However, with a well-established connection between head injury and mental illness, the National Football League, in partnership with the Satcher Health Leadership Institute of Morehouse School of Medicine, is increasing mental health awareness through a series of town hall style forums around the country, entitled NFL Community Huddle: Taking a Goal Line Stand for Your Mind & Body. This partnership works to educate, motivate and mobilize communities to work together to address mental health issues like dementia, depression, financial and relationship stress, and drug and alcohol abuse.

    The NFL Community Huddle kicked off at the National Center for Primary Care of Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA., and will hit several major cities across the U.S.  Panelists included former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, retired NFL players Mark Kelso of the Buffalo Bills and Eric Hipple of the Detroit Lions, WNBA player Chamique Holdsclaw, and Sylvia Mackey, wife of retired NFL Hall of Famer John Mackey. They shared their personal stories, devotion to mental health and commitment to decreasing stigma and bringing about awareness.

    By bringing retired players and their families together with the communities, an opportunity is created to talk about an issue that is often times only discussed behind closed doors, if discussed at all. Such openness makes it OK for other athletes and their families and the general public to talk about mental health.

    Medical journalist and moderator for the event, Jeanne Blake, believes this partnership with the NFL will be a tremendous catalyst for change around discussions about mental health. “Through education we can increase understanding and therefore reduce the stigma that far too often still prevents people who need and deserve treatment from seeking it and receiving it,” said Blake.

    The goal, says Dr. Satcher, is to create a "game plan” for reducing stigma and influence supportive measures to address mental disorders and prevent traumatic brain injury across all sports.

    Written by Reyna Jones