Former Michigan Football Star Opens Up About His Experience With Depression

“I’m from Ann Arbor and I was playing football for the University of Michigan, and yet here I was, 19 years old, hating myself and my life,” says former University of Michigan football player Will Heininger in a video released by Athletes Connected, a collaboration between the University of Michigan School of Public Health, the University of Michigan Depression Center and the Athletic Department.

“I had all the classic signs of depression, but didn’t know what it was,” he says.

The video (below) tells Heininger’s story. The young football star silently experienced depression until an athletic trainer noticed he wasn’t doing well and set him up with therapy. The video is part of Athletes Connected’s educational campaign to teach athletes about depression and the benefits of seeking help. It was developed with initial funding from a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Innovations Research and Practice Grant, according to its website.

At a time where 13 percent of college students have been diagnosed with depression or an anxiety disorder, a study found only 10 percent of athletes who showed significant depression or anxiety symptoms used mental health services, according to the NCAA. The Athletes Connected program aims to combat that. Along with presenting videos like Heininger’s, the program also holds informational presentations for student-athletes and coaches, as well as drop-in support groups.

Based on research done on the pilot phase of Athletes Connected, the program is having a positive impact on University of Michigan athletes. After going to the support group, 67 percent of respondents to a follow-up survey reported they used one or more anxiety-reducing strategies taught during the session. After the presentation, student-athletes said they were “more comfortable discussing mental health issues with their teammates.”

“I learned that depression is a diagnosed illness. It’s common, especially among college students. And it can be treated,” Heininger says in his video. “Because I opened up and got help, I became a better football player, a better student, a better friend and a better person.

You can watch Heininger’s story below: 

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