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Former Quarterback speaks on mental health

The Former Lions Quarterback and LOHS teacher Chris Bell after Feb. 16ís presentation. Photo by Olivia Shumaker (click for larger version)
February 22, 2012 - By Olivia Shumaker

Special to the Review

Eric Hipple, Detroit Lions quarterback through all of the 1980s, came to Lake Orion on Thursday, February 16, not to talk football, but rather about more serious issues close to his heart: mental health and suicide prevention.

A room full of boys and their parents listened at full attention while Hipple discussed issues that are often difficult to hear, and did it in a way that kept the audience engaged and comfortable while he opened the door to many uncomfortable topics. Using anecdotes about football, including a video clip of a Lions game against Tampa in which he was hit so hard his helmet flew off, and an analogy about a hypothetical run-in with an ex-girlfriend, Hipple related the issue of positive mental health in an interesting and comprehensible way to the teenage athletes.

Hipple has some experience with what he discusses: he himself has been treated for depression, and his own son committed suicide after suffering many of the same symptoms.

"My rebound," Hipple said, "came when I said, 'I want to know what happened.' What you're going to hear tonight is a culmination of those answers."

One of Hipple's biggest messages is there is always choice. "When you make a good decision, you want to own it because it helps your self esteem," Hipple said. "When you make mistakes, I want you to own those too, because that's how you learn. If you can't own bad choices, you can't own the good."

Hipple also laid out three keys to resilience against mental illness: purpose, communication, and support. That is, leading a purposeful life, communicating problems with others, and getting support, when in bad and good places.

"We should set our standard higher than just being okay," Hipple said. "We should set our standard high enough that we want to thrive."

All told, the message of the night was clear: do not be so afraid to make mistakes and have something be wrong—it is only human. Just ask for help when necessary.

Hipple is no stranger to Lake Orion. He was in town this past December as a speaker for the suicide prevention community forum hosted by St. Joseph's Catholic School. When he was there, he me Lake Orion High School Associate Principal, Chris Bell. During their conversation, Hipple mentioned had a mental health presentation specifically geared toward athletes which he had not yet presented in Michigan, and which he would like some feedback on in a small group setting.

"Maybe based on his schedule we might be able to bring him back to talk to a larger group," Bell stated.

As for Hipple, he feels that spreading the message of mental health to athletes is important because, he says, sports often guide the school—that is, everyone has some kind of investment in sports, making athletes probably the most recognized peers in the school. "So if we can start there, it's easier than coming into the school and trying to get everybody," Hipple explained.

That was the goal on Thursday night, when Hipple presented to the football teams, the varsity boys' basketball team, and their parents. Mixing in humor and football analogies, Hipple explained to the collected audience the importance of mental health, specifically how the brain is a problem solver and is always using tools introduced to it. When it misfires or encounters a problem that it cannot find a solution to, the brain will invert, pulling in on itself, which is where mental illness and a suicidal mind can occur. Tossing small blue footballs at the assembled boys, Hipple stated that they probably do not go into a game without analyzing the other team—they like to be prepared. The same attitude ought to apply to mental illness and mental health, he argued.

All told, the message of the night was clear: do not be so afraid to make mistakes and have something be wrong—it is only human. Just ask for help when necessary.

"If you are struggling, there is no issue that we cannot solve together," Bell stated to close the presentation. "My challenge to you is to start to be honest with yourself."

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