NFL and Mental Health

NFL and Mental Health

NFL and Mental Health – its Game Plan for Wellness

Mental health is an aspect of the game that doesn’t always make the headlines, but it’s becoming a key player in how teams operate and players perform.

From Physical to Mental Fitness in the NFL

The NFL, known for its intense physicality, is now putting a major focus on the mental and emotional well-being of its players. This shift marks a significant change in how the league and its teams approach player care. It’s no longer just about physical strength and agility; there’s a growing understanding that mental health is just as crucial in shaping a successful athlete. Now some people may argue that the NFL is not doing enough in the area of mental health, but it cannot be argued that there has been significant progress. And that positive aspect is what we hope to share in this article.

In this article we will discuss:

A League-Wide Initiative in Mental Health Support for NFL Players

The NFL itself has stepped up, establishing the Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee. This group of experts, appointed by both the league and the NFL Players Association, focuses on developing educational programs and resources not just for players, but for coaches, club personnel, and even players’ family members. It’s a holistic approach, aimed at reducing the stigma associated with mental health and promoting overall wellness.

Team Efforts: How the Buffalo Bills and the Chicago Bears are Making a Difference in Mental Health

As part of this broader initiative, individual teams like the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears have taken significant steps to prioritize mental health. These teams have recognized that taking care of the mind is as important as training the body. Their stories shed light on the practical ways in which mental health support is being integrated into the daily lives of its players and staff.

A New Era in the NFL that Focuses on Mental Health

What we’re witnessing is a transformative period in the NFL, where the emphasis on mental health is reshaping the league’s culture. This new game plan focuses not only on creating stronger athletes but also on fostering healthier individuals off the field. It’s a movement that’s redefining toughness and resilience in professional sports.

The NFL’s Approach to Mental Health

The Mental Health and Wellness Committee

The NFL has set up the Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee, a group of experts dedicated to mental health in the NFL community. Their focus? Educating players, coaches, and staff about mental wellness, collaborating on suicide prevention, and reducing the stigma around mental health issues. It’s a big step towards making sure everyone in the NFL feels supported and heard.

A Holistic Approach for the NFL and its Players

The NFL’s objectives go beyond the field. They’re working towards making it easy and normal for players and staff to seek mental health support. This includes creating programs tailored to the unique challenges of NFL life, promoting a culture of care in clubs, and partnering with organizations to broaden their impact. The idea is simple: mental health is as important as physical health.

Meet the Team Behind the Initiative of the NFL and Mental Health

  1. Dr. Amber Cargill: As the Director of Player Wellness at the NFL Players Association, Dr. Cargill is a key figure in supporting players’ mental and physical health. With a rich background in clinical and sport psychology, she’s a vital resource for athletes, both on and off the field.
  2. Dr. Sidney Hankerson: A Co-Director at Columbia University Wellness Center and an expert in mental health literacy, Dr. Hankerson brings a wealth of knowledge, especially in addressing mental health in diverse communities. His work is instrumental in making mental health resources more accessible and understandable.
  3. Dr. Thom Mayer: As the Medical Director of the NFL Players Association, Dr. Mayer focuses on the health and safety of NFL athletes. His expertise covers a range of critical areas, from heat illness to brain injuries, ensuring players receive the best care possible.
  4. Dr. Nyaka NiiLampti: As the Vice President of Wellness and Clinical Services for the NFL, Dr. NiiLampti is responsible for the Total Wellness platform. She plays a crucial role in developing strategies and programs for overall wellness, emphasizing a proactive and holistic approach.
  5. Dr. Allen Sills: The NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Sills, is at the forefront of advancing health and safety in football. His extensive experience in dealing with sports-related injuries and health crises makes him a key player in the league’s health initiatives.

The Buffalo Bills Are Pioneers in Prioritizing Mental Health

Now let’s take a closer look at how the Buffalo Bills are leading the charge in prioritizing mental health, not just for their athletes but for everyone in their organization.

A Super Power Beyond the Field: Dr. Dez’s Impact

The Bills have stepped up their game in mental health by bringing Dr. Desaree Festa, or “Dr. Dez” as she’s affectionately known, into a full-time role as a sport psychologist and team clinician. It’s a big deal because not many NFL teams had someone like her on board full-time by the time she arrived in Buffalo. Dr. Dez brings a unique blend of expertise in both mental health and athletic performance, making her an ideal fit for the job.

Her mission? To optimize players’ mental well-being both on and off the field. Dr. Dez believes in taking care of the whole person – their emotional, mental, and relational health. This holistic approach is key because, as she puts it, “healthier athletes off the field are healthier athletes on the field and vice versa.”

A Team’s Commitment to Mental Health

This focus on mental wellness isn’t new for the Bills. Head coach Sean McDermott has always seen mental health as more than just an add-on to physical training. It’s central to his philosophy of coaching. He believes that taking care of his team’s mental health is a top priority, and this was the case even before Dr. Dez joined the team four years ago.

The Bills view mental health as something everyone deals with, not a sign of weakness. They believe in using sport psychology proactively, not just when problems arise. This approach has helped create an environment where players feel comfortable using resources like Dr. Dez as part of their everyday routine.

Mental Health as a Competitive Edge

Dr. Dez emphasizes that working on mental health gives players a competitive edge. At the professional level, physical differences among players are minimal, but the mental game can make a real difference. Mental resilience and the ability to handle the challenges of the sport are what set players apart.

Jordan Poyer’s Journey with Mental Health

Take Jordan Poyer, the veteran safety for the Bills. He’s openly talked about how working with Dr. Dez has opened his eyes to new perspectives and helped him manage his world both inside and outside of football. Poyer’s journey, including his battle with alcoholism and his growth as a player, husband, and father, highlights the transformative power of focusing on mental health.

Fostering a Supportive Culture

What’s really cool about the Bills is how they’ve created a culture where players use what they’ve learned about mental health to support each other. Dr. Dez observes players sharing strategies and helping each other, which shows how deeply ingrained this focus on mental wellness has become in the team.

Mental Health Awareness in Professional Sports

The Bills’ efforts are part of a larger movement in professional sports, highlighted by initiatives like Pro-Athlete Mental Health Awareness Week. This cross-league initiative aims to destigmatize mental health issues and normalize conversations about mental well-being among athletes.

Leaving a Lasting Impact

The Buffalo Bills, under the leadership of Terry and Kim Pegula, McDermott, and Brandon Beane, are committed to developing the whole person, not just the athlete. They recognize that mental health is a vital part of this development. Players like Poyer have discovered new strengths by learning to manage their mental health, turning it into a superpower.

The Road Ahead for the Buffalo Bills, the NFL and Mental Health

The hope is that efforts like these will broaden the understanding of mental health, shifting the focus from mental illness to mental wellness, encompassing positive emotions and healthy relationships. The Bills are setting an example, showing that taking care of your mental health is just as important as physical training – a lesson that extends far beyond the football field.

The Chicago Bears Embrace Mental Wellness as a Key to Success

A Comprehensive Wellness Strategy

Under the leadership of Chicago Bears general manager, Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus, the Bears have placed a significant emphasis on mental health resources and support. The new regime values mental wellness just as much as physical conditioning. They understand that being a professional athlete involves not just physical strain but also mental and emotional challenges.

Leadership’s Commitment

Both Poles and Eberflus have had in-depth discussions about the importance of mental health, recognizing that strong leadership is crucial in making a real impact. They’re not just talking the talk; they’re actively putting resources in place for their players. This approach reflects a deep understanding that mental health is critical for overall performance and well-being.

It’s OK Not to Be OK: Normalizing Mental Health Support

Coach Eberflus emphasizes that it’s perfectly fine to seek help and talk things through. This attitude around normalizing mental health support is vital in a high-pressure environment where players are constantly under the spotlight. By acknowledging that everyone, including professional athletes, can have down days or feel overwhelmed, the Bears are helping to destigmatize mental health issues. The Bears’ strategy includes normalizing conversations about mental health. Coach Eberflus and Poles openly discuss these topics, setting a positive example and encouraging players and staff to utilize available resources. This open attitude is key to creating a supportive culture where seeking help is seen as a strength, not a weakness.

Mike Wiley Jr.’s Contribution

One of Poles’ notable moves was hiring Mike Wiley Jr. as the director of player development and mental skills. Wiley’s background in mental skills training and mental health counseling sets him apart in a role that’s traditionally been filled by former players without such expertise. His work focuses on helping players handle adversity, manage anxiety, and stay confident and focused, ultimately enabling them to perform at their best on the field.

Team Clinician Carla Suber: A Pillar of Support

Carla Suber, the team clinician, plays a crucial role in supporting the players. Hired full-time in 2020, she conducts individual and group sessions, offering strategies for managing stress and staying grounded. Her holistic approach extends to helping players with meditation, mindfulness, and even sleep management, emphasizing the importance of being well-rounded individuals, not just athletes.

The Impact of Mental Wellness on Performance

The Bears understand that mental wellness is not just about addressing problems; it’s also about enhancing performance. Wiley helps players develop skills to improve focus, confidence, and resilience. This shift from viewing mental health as merely reactive to recognizing its proactive benefits is a significant step forward in sports psychology.

Building a Supportive Environment

The Bears are committed to building a culture where mental health is openly discussed and supported. This commitment extends beyond the players to their families, ensuring a well-rounded approach to wellness. The organization’s efforts in destigmatizing mental health issues and providing comprehensive support are setting a new standard in the NFL.

The Chicago Bears Are an Example for All NFL Teams

The Chicago Bears’ approach to mental health is a shining example for other teams in the league. By prioritizing mental wellness alongside physical fitness, the Bears are not just preparing their players for success on the field but also equipping them with the tools to lead fulfilling lives off the field.

A New Playbook for the NFL

A significant cultural shift is underway when it comes to the NFL and mental health. The league, along with teams like the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears, are setting new standards in how mental wellness is integrated into professional sports.

Beyond the Field: Mental Health as a Key Player

The journey through the NFL’s commitment, from league-wide initiatives to individual team efforts, reveals a deep understanding that mental health is as crucial as physical prowess. The stories of the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears are not just isolated cases; they’re part of a growing trend where mental fitness is viewed as a vital component of an athlete’s overall performance and well-being.

A Ripple Effect Across the League

This shift towards prioritizing mental health is creating a ripple effect throughout the NFL. This mental health focus is encouraging players to speak openly about their struggles, seek help when needed, and view mental health care as a normal and essential part of their professional lives. This openness is not just changing the lives of the players; it’s also influencing fans and communities, highlighting the importance of mental wellness in every aspect of life.

Player Care

What we’re seeing is more than just a new policy or program; it’s a fundamental change in how the NFL perceives and addresses the well-being of its players. By acknowledging and supporting the mental health needs of its athletes, the NFL is taking a significant step forward in player care.

A League Committed to Total Wellness

The NFL’s focus on mental health is poised to reshape the league’s identity. This commitment to the mental and emotional health of its players paves the way for a more holistic approach to athlete development. It’s a future where the strength of the mind is celebrated as much as the strength of the body, setting a new standard for sports leagues worldwide.

The NFL’s embrace of mental health is a game-changer, one that promises to bring about a more compassionate, understanding, and holistic approach to professional sports. As we continue to follow this journey, it’s clear that the league is playing a crucial role in breaking down barriers and creating a healthier, more supportive environment for everyone involved in the game.

More sources and related content

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