Atlanta Falcons player Hayden Hurst is using his own experience with depression to help break stigmas about mental health.
In a pair of emotional videos posted by the NFL team this week, the 27-year-old tight end explained that he first began struggling while playing for a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
“I didn’t have control like I normally did and then sure enough, I let a 95 mph. fastball go and it hit this kid in the head,” he said. “For me, it was just sheer embarrassment.”
“I feel like I finally knew that something was really dark and something was going on and we would FaceTime him and he was in a dark room in the middle of the day by himself,” his sister recalled.
In an attempt to curtail his “downward spiral,” Hurst decided to quit baseball and pursue football, going on to play for the University of South Carolina.
“I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders because I got to leave that crap behind me,” he said. “I honestly thought I was going to leave everything behind me. I get to South Carolina and I’m still drinking, I’m still turning to drugs. Trying to numb that pain of having my childhood dream ripped away from me.”
“One night it just caught up to me," Hurst continued, referring to his 2016 suicide attempt. “At that point, I wanted out. I’d fought for so long and I just wanted it to be over."
After opening up to his family about what he was going through in the hospital, Hurst decided to make the most of his “second chance” and completely dedicate himself to football.
“It was the best and the worst thing that’s ever happened in my life,” he said. “I made a promise to myself: I’m not going to do this again. For whatever reason, God looked down on me and gave me a second shot at this thing.”
Hurst’s hard work paid off when he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2018. Shortly after getting the good news, he told his parents that he wanted to give back by starting a foundation — the Hayden Hurst Family Foundation — to help raise awareness about mental health in young people.
As part of the NFL’s fifth-annual “My Cause My Cleats” initiative, Hurst’s footwear during Sunday’s game will bring his advocacy onto the field.
“End stigma. Change lives,” reads one message on the custom cleats, which will highlight his foundation. Additionally, the shoes will put a spotlight on another organization from fellow NFL player Dak Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback who revealed in September that his brother had died by suicide earlier this year.
"I truly hope this story reaches the people who need to see it and hear it," Hurst wrote on social media alongside the Falcons' video. "You are not alone. It does get better and it starts by asking for help, that is true strength."
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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