Heroes and hidden depression

By Carolyn Gerard, LMFT

Go Big or Go Home! There’s nothing wrong with messages to go for the gusto, give it all you’ve got and if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. We are a nation founded on determination, entrepreneurship, strength and independence. But what are the emotional consequences for the hero when their acclaimed “best” days are behind them? How are they to cope when their body betrays them or their well of passion has run dry? Are they allowed to show human frailties? Can they talk about shortcomings and fears?

With the recent passing of San Diego’s Favorite Son, Junior Seau, I was struck by the sad commentaries of those who were close to him who expressed no idea of the personal pain and emotional suffering he may have experienced. They wondered how they could have been more attuned to those hidden feelings and if there was anything they could have done to avert the final act of hopelessness.

It’s perplexing for adoring fans to comprehend that those successful heroes can have feelings of despair. These feelings are nonetheless real and tragically impossible in today’s society for the hero to discuss. If they reveal feelings of depression they fear that they will be perceived as “weak,” a character flaw that heroes simply do not possess.

Underneath the facade of any “hero,” whether it be a professional athlete, a successful business person or the world’s best Mom or Dad, we must acknowledge that our love and respect for them is founded on the person who has achieved heroic abilities, and not just for the image they represent. We must, as individuals, and as a society in general, send the message to all “heroes” that it is OK to be human. If they experience adversity in their personal lives we should encourage them to talk about it and to reach out to others. We must dispel the stigma of being labeled a “failure” at any sign of emotional distress. Sometimes the most courageous heroes are those who forego what others think and get appropriate emotional support when it is needed. No one — even our heroes deserve less.

It is fact that one in four Americans will experience some form of mental health condition in their lifetime. The same treatment one would unquestionably receive for a broken bone should be sought and offered without labels and shame for any mental health disorder. When that happens, we will all benefit and learn to love and appreciate our heroes as people of integrity when their playing fields change over time.

Carolyn Gerard is a 20-plus-year Fairbanks Ranch resident, wife and mother of five children, including twins. She is a licensed marriage & family therapist specializing in couples therapy. For more information contact (858) 756-8171, cg@GerardCounseling.com, HoldMeTightSanDiego.com

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