NFL players have steadily used more mental health resources since the pandemic, league and union say

NFL players have steadily used more mental health resources since the pandemic, league and union say

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Former NFL offensive lineman TJ Lang says no one discussed mental health issues 15 years ago at the beginning of his career.

“When you’re a big, strapping athlete, part of you takes pride in keeping a secret and looking like you’re in one piece,” said Long, who played eight seasons in Green Bay and retired Ended his career. After two years with the Detroit Lions, the 2018 season is about to begin. “The world is a different place now. I think it’s a good thing that the NFL and teams are trying to help and make sure their players are in the right head space.

“There’s ultimate pressure in this sport. Sometimes people fail, sometimes people need help. The more teams can encourage and normalize that, the better.”

In 2019, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed to require every team to have a certified behavioral health clinician on staff to increase mental health resources.

“This is critical to setting standards,” said Amber Cargill, NFLPA director of health and wellness.

The Kansas City Chiefs, who will face the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl on February 11, are one of several teams in the league to have a dedicated mental health specialist.

The Niners have a licensed behavioral health clinician at their training facility who works 20 to 30 hours a week, well in excess of the 8 to 12 hours specified in the collective bargaining agreement.

The Ravens, who were defeated by the Chiefs in the AFC title game, made a hire before becoming obligated, adding team clinician Tricia Bent-Goodley in 2015 Add to their workforce.

“I believe our culture has really supported my work from the beginning, and it starts at the top,” she said.

The league and unions may not agree on much, but they appear to be like-minded when it comes to making mental health a priority and ensuring services are always available.

The league and union say that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, more players have taken advantage of the opportunity to speak with mental health professionals.

“Post-pandemic, we’re seeing a willingness to have conversations about seeking help and normalizing challenges like anxiety and depression,” Nyaka NiiLampti, the NFL’s vice president of clinical and health services, said in a recent phone interview. “There is also a growing recognition that optimal physical performance cannot be achieved without optimizing mental performance.”

Lions quarterback Hendon Hooker spent his rookie season last year trying to keep his head above water while recovering from a knee injury that ended his college career at Tennessee and dealing with the death of a loved one. Hooker said he spoke with clinical psychologist Michelle Garvin, who works with the Lions and co-director of player engagement, to develop strategies such as learning how to sleep better. and other strategies.

Gavin was hired by Lions general manager Brad Holmes three years ago and is part of a wellness team that includes Sean Pugh and Jessica Gray, whose offices are just a stone’s throw from the players’ locker room. A few steps away.

Linebacker Alex Anzalone has his own issues and wants to talk to someone, trying to get over the trauma of the sound of his son’s leg snapping while riding the slide together.

“A few days later, when I came into work, I said, ‘Hey, Dr. Gavin. I need to talk to you,'” Anzalone recalled. “I couldn’t get the sound of his leg breaking out of my head.

“We see her all the time. She has open office hours and Brad does a good job of emphasizing that we should be able to see her year-round.”

Lions coach Dan Campbell said Gavin has become an “incredible” part of the team, cultivating relationships with players over time to build trust.

“I do think our guys are using it more every year and I do think it helps in every aspect,” Campbell said. “You’re dealing with time management. You’re dealing with family issues. You’re dealing with anxiety issues.

“She also always has her head up with the coaches,” Campbell added. “She would come in once a week, once every two weeks, and she wanted to make sure we stayed smart and got our rest.”

Buffalo Bills edge rusher Von Miller put it simply.

“It’s a shame, but hell, it helps,” he said. “If you have a hamstring strain, you go see a doctor. If you have a mental problem, you go see a doctor.

“Sometimes you can’t control what happens to your body. It’s like the body will do what it does. But if you’re mentally determined, everything else will work.”


AP Sports Writer John Varro in Buffalo, N.Y., contributed to this report.



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