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College Football Player Quits Team to Receive Treatment for Anxiety

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On Sunday night, University of Washington football standout Isaiah Renfro took to Twitter to announce he was walking away from the team to receive treatment for depression and anxiety.

In a lengthy statement, Renfro explained he’d missed his school’s spring workouts because he had been in a hospital for “people like me,” participating in a rehabilitation program he said “taught me how to cope with my problems and what to do when I hit my lowest of lows.”

Renfro also wrote that being diagnosed with anxiety and depression makes it difficult for him to do a simple thing like get himself out of bed in the morning. Before being admitted to the hospital, he says he was in a dark place.

The football player’s decision to speak out is an important one. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic whites. But, only a quarter of African Americans, compared with 40 percent of whites, seek mental health care.

Paolo Delvecchio, Director of the Center for Mental Health Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, praised Renfro’s actions.

“Honest conversations about mental health dismantle the prejudice that is often associated with mental illness,” Delvecchio, who himself has depression and anxiety, told The Mighty. “When a respected public figure discloses a mental health condition and the experience of seeking treatment, they lead by example, breaking down the misperception that having a mental health problem is a personal weakness. Most importantly, by their willingness to share their stories, they help give others the hope and the confidence to seek help and recovery.”

Especially among football players, this conversation is needed.

Now, Renfro said, he has a “better outlook,” but will step away from football and his studies at UW as he continues to recuperate.

“This isn’t the end of me, just the end of a certain chapter,” he wrote. “I will conquer this, and not let this situation conquer me. I’m on a journey to find my happiness again.”

Renfro told ABC News the reaction to his story has taken him by surprise.

“It’s a bit surreal — people calling me a hero,” Renfro said. “But I don’t view myself as that at all. I see it as just telling my story, to see if I could help one or two people. I didn’t imagine that it would help all these people.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Originally published: June 2, 2016
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