Tyler Hilinski's Death Shows That Mental Disorders in Athletics are Way Overlooked

By Steven Kishpaugh
Jan. 18, 2018

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Police who responded to the scene in Pullman, Washington were greatly saddened to inform the world that Tyler Hilinski, a former quarterback for the Washington State Cougars football team, had died at the tender age of 21. The suspected cause? A self-inclficted gunshot wound to the brain. A suicide. Police had found a rifle and a note near him. It is an absolutely devastating story. But it is one that feels familiar. Why? Because incidents like this happen all the time. Not just in the sports world, but all around the world. There is a correlation between all of these people who tragically lost their life, they all had internal issues that they likely portrayed, but were left unnoticed.

Two former Washington State quarterbacks Ryan Leaf and Drew Bledsoe spoke out about what had happened. Leaf had said on social media that he could not stop crying when he heard about what happened. Bledsoe made a comment that encapsulates the message that so desperately needs to be heard: "As men we have to learn to TALK about how we are feeling...Reaching out for help when we need it is NOT a sign of weakness." This is the exact message that needs to be conveyed to all kinds of people. Those who are often overlooked, however, are (male) athletes.

According to National Data on Campus Suicide and Depression, one out of every 12 college students make a suicide plan, and 7.5 out of 100,000 actually do kill themselves.

Any sort of depression can be worse than battling a physical disease or ailment. With a physical disease, one can outwardly see what is happening to them and can seek treatment without judgment. But with a mental illness, it is not as simple. It is strenuous on a person to reveal themselves to anyone (no matter how close that person is to him or her) their deepest inner thoughts and demons. Why is that?

Because of fear. Fear of being judged, ostracized, picked on for being "weak willed." It may sound ridiculous to think about, but these are legitimate fears held by some people, especially around younger males. Stereotypes portray the male as needing to be hypermasculine to truly be a man. Revealing ones inner thoughts, that they feel no one else will understand, does not fit the bill of hypermasculinity. Keeping thoughts in your head is dangerous, but some feel there is no other option than that.

People, like Tyler Hilinski, struggle with many different forms of insecurities. Some people don't feel good enough to belong, others don't feel good about themselves and feel worthless because of it, and others are scared in general of prospects like their future and even present. For many people, various forms of depression (seasonal, bipolar, psychotic, etc.) affect the person differently. But no matter what kind affects them, what is important to remember is that they all matters and one is not superior to the other.

Athletes already have a difficult time dealing with their emotions, as many are told to cast them aside and focus on the team, but being told that the problems in which they are currently struggling with are secondary, really f---ing hurts. What someone should never do is compare one person's problems to another's, because every human being on God's green earth is different. When that happens, it creates a sense of guilt and worthlessness within the person, because they think, "Wow, maybe my problems don't matter at all." (They do.)

The best thing you can do for someone with suicidal thoughts is get them help. You are most likely not a professional, so get them someone who is. There is always someone that will listen (National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255). For athletes that live in a hyper stressful environment in which person life often comes third, it is okay to get help. It is NOT embarrassing to look out for someone, or even yourself.

Stories like Tyler Hilinski are always upsetting to hear about, but what is the best thing to do is get help, even if you don't want to and think you don't need to. No matter what, someone cares, and I hope Tyler Hilinski will be a stepping stone for higher awareness

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