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Former NFL Star Opens Up About Mental Illness During Awareness Event in Rochester

American football playersHerschel Walker is making his return to professional sports in mixed-martial arts, but he’s been involved in a different kind of fight for most of his life.

According to 13WHAM News, the former NFL running back recently headlined an event in Rochester to raise awareness of mental illness, and spoke about struggling to hide his mental health condition from teammates and coaches.

Walker was the keynote speaker at the Hope and Recovery Luncheon held at the East House on Tuesday. The East House is a non-profit rehabilitation organization that aims to help people with mental health and substance abuse disorders in Rochester.

The star football player says he dealt with disassociative identity disorder throughout his career, and his heartfelt words struck a chord with everyone in attendance.

He said people with mental health issues need to admit they have a problem in order to get better, at which point they can seek professional help.

“When I mentioned I had a problem, some of those guys looked like I had a disease they were gonna catch,” Walker said. “They got away from me like I was a vampire. I’ve told many people unless you can bring it to the forefront, and bring it out into the light, you’re not going to get any better.”

Mental illness is a major problem within every race and creed in America, but tends to be particularly misunderstood among African-Americans.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental health issues are frequently stigmatized by the African-American community. In a recent 15-year span, suicide rates increased 233% among African-Americans aged 10 to 14, compared to 120% among Caucasians in the same age group across the same span of time.

Walker has been outspoken about his mental health issues since he retired from the NFL in 1997. USA Today reports that he regularly played Russian Roulette with a real gun in his darkest hours, narrowly avoiding death in several instances.

Shedding the stereotypes of athletes to enlighten the masses on the realities of mental health, Walker’s new career choice may just be his most courageous one yet.