by The Trust's Executive Director Bahati VanPelt
Since May of 2015, I have worn my green wristband that says “Stamp Out Stigma”. This wristband was provided by NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall's foundation, Project 375. The message is simple, yet powerful, and is a daily reminder of the important role mental health awareness plays in my professional and personal life.
Three years ago, one of The Trust’s program managers, Candice Williams, gave me the bracelet to promote Mental Health Awareness Month. I immediately put it on and can’t imagine ever taking it off. I wear it because mental health resources are the most important services we provide at The Trust. I wear it so our former players know it is OK to talk about mental health. I wear it so they know they are not alone.
I wear my wristband so our former players know we understand the challenges some of our population face in this area. I wear it so they know The Trust provides a safe environment to share the feelings many often are afraid to talk about. To discuss those feelings openly and honestly without judgement. To feel confident the conversations will remain private. To know there are professionals willing and able to support those in need and assist every player in getting connected to some of the best resources in the country free of charge.
I may never know for certain, but I am hopeful when I interact with former players and they look down at my wrist, they know, while unspoken, the importance The Trust places on mental wellness. “Stamping Out Stigma” is not only for the month of May, but is a daily mission of mine and every Trust staff member, Trust captain and Trust partner.
I wear my wristband because I have a personal history and a family history of mental health. I have family members who have dealt with mental health challenges as far back as I can remember. They have attended counseling and at times been committed for varying mental health diagnoses. I have also lost family members to behavior associated with mental health challenges. Unfortunately, as in many households across the country, we did not have frank and open conversations about mental health, recognizing symptoms and asking for help and seeking treatment. It was the topic no one discussed. It was our business and was to be kept “in house”. I can’t change the past, but I wear the wristband to make a difference today and in the future.
In the three years I have worn my wristband, I hope it has become a symbol of strength, empowerment and encouragement to our players, my colleagues and anyone I have met along the way. It is much more than something I wear; it is who I am.
If you believe that you're experiencing a mental health crisis we encourage you to seek help. In the process of helping yourself, you may be giving the courage to others to reach out for help as well. If you or someone you know is in crisis please call the NFL Life Line at 1-800-506-0078 or call 9-1-1 or head to your nearest local emergency room.