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Naval Hospital Teams up with Former NFL Star to End Stigma Against Mental Health

“Sometimes we all aren’t able to communicate well. Or what we’re going through. We all have problems that we can overcome with the right resources. I’m happy to see that [the Naval Hospital] is proactive in offering many different treatment options. It’s been needed for a long time.” – Herschel Walker

by Anna Hancock, Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune Public Affairs

Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune‘s Department of Mental Health teamed up with former NFL superstar, Olympian and mixed martial artist Herschel Walker to campaign against the stigma surrounding mental health.

Herschel Walker visited the hospital to encourage Marines and Sailors to seek help when they need it, particularly service members suffering from post-traumatic stress or other mental and behavioral health-related conditions who may be afraid to ask for help.

Widely known as one of the greatest football running backs of all time, Walker had a distinguished professional athletic career with pro football teams including the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. Walker won the Heisman trophy in 1982 and competed in the 1992 Olympics. Shortly after he retired from his pro-football career, he was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personalities disorder. In a speech given to patients, visitors, Marines, Sailors, and staff members, Walker noted that it wasn’t until after he recognized a pattern of violent and angry behavior starting when he was young, that he needed to seek help.

“I was angry. I had no fear. I felt no pain. You couldn’t stop me,” said Walker. “But I was doing things I didn’t remember.”

He explained how games of Russian roulette became his norm, and how normal day to day aggravations sparked unnaturally angry, sometimes violent responses. Then after friends and family confronted him with the scenarios, he was still reluctant to ask for help because of the stigma that exists surrounding mental health.

“I said something’s wrong. I have a problem. And I went to the hospital. We all fall short of the glory of God in some way,” Walker told the audience.

“But even after I got to my first group session,” he said. “I was like – ‘these people are crazy!’ I lied to the group for about four days before I accepted help…Being honest and getting help was the best thing I ever did.”

Walker was later invited to tour several inpatient and outpatient mental health programs and group therapies. He spoke to more intimate audiences of patients throughout the day encouraging them to continue seeking treatments, then sharing his own personal challenges.

After visiting an art exhibit featuring art work created by patients from the naval hospital’s expressive art therapy group, and speaking to several groups of patients receiving outpatient mental health and/or behavioral health therapies, Walker lauded NHCL’s Department of Mental Health.

More than 50,000 of Naval Hospital’s 120,000 patients are active duty Marines and Sailors – many whom have deployed to combat environments multiple times and have an increased chance of suffering from post-traumatic stress or experiencing trauma. The Department of Mental Health staff members make it common place to consistently reevaluate treatment options and whether or not the team is effectively reaching the patient populations and meeting their needs.

“We are glad that our Marines and Sailors had an opportunity to hear an Olympic competitor and professional athlete reemphasize that it’s OK to ask for help,” said NHCL’s Department of Mental Health Director Cmdr. Sawsan Ghurani, board certified psychiatrist. “And not only that it’s OK to ask, but there are many others in their shoes. And with help, they’ve recovered and become well again.”

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