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Former NFL quarterback shares insights on depression, suicide prevention

Eric Hipple, former Detroit Lions quarterback, recently spoke at Barberton High School about his personal struggles with depression and the tragic loss of his 15-year-o,d son Jeff to suicide. He chronicles his journey in his book “Real Men Do Cry.” (Photo courtesy of Eric Hipple).

Legal News Reporter

Published: October 15, 2012

Eric Hipple says the most important thing you can achieve in life is “mental fitness.”

He should know. The former Detroit Lions quarterback recently spoke at Barberton High School about his personal struggles with depression, his career in the NFL and the tragic loss of his 15-year-old son Jeff to suicide.

Hipple chronicled his own journey to mental fitness in his book “Real Men Do Cry.” In it, he talks about the undiagnosed symptoms he experienced as a young boy. At first, his depression surfaced as his inability to fall asleep at night. Once he was older and attending Utah State University, he started having even more serious symptoms.

“My junior year in college, I started not feeling well,” he said. “I felt disassociated, was sleeping too much and skipping my classes. Eventually I flunked out and had to take summer school.”

Hipple was able to recover his grades through summer classes and never really tried to figure out what had happened to him. He graduated from Utah State and was a fourth round draft pick for the Detroit Lions. After 10 memorable years and a series of injuries, Hipple was cut from the team.

“That was a transition period for me,” he said. “I was only 32 years old.”

Hipple started an insurance business with some former college players and the business became very successful. At one point, he was making more money with the business than he had playing football. While he enjoyed the success, those familiar feelings came creeping back.

“The seventh year into my business, I started not feeling right again,” he said. “I had a sense of dread and was just laying around on the couch, just like I had in college.”

Things began to spiral down. He started missing important meetings and the business began to crumple. One day on his way to the airport for a business meeting, Hipple felt so overwhelmed, he unbuckled his seat belt and jumped out of the car he was riding in. Even after waking up in the hospital with bad road burns and a concussion, Hipple said nobody asked the important questions that would have pointed to depression.

Meanwhile, his son Jeff was showing similar warning signs. While Hipple was out of town on business, Jeff committed suicide. Trying to numb his grief, Hipple abused alcohol and prescription drugs. One night after leaving a tailgate party, he was arrested for drunk driving.

After failing to honor the rules of his probation, Hipple was sentenced to 58-days in jail, where he hit “rock bottom.” During his time in jail, he realized he had to change his life.

“I needed a better offense, not defense, for my life’s game,” he wrote. Wanting to better understand what had happened to him and his son, he set out to find answers.

He became an expert in depression after first attending a Lunch & Learn session at the Depression Center of the University of Michigan. He shared his struggles and was referred to a doctor at the center. Together they discussed all his symptoms, what they meant and the different treatment options that would be best for him. Hipple said that this was the first time anyone ever explained the brain’s chemistry to him. He learned that depression was in fact, a real disease. He said he realizes now that Jeff had suffered from much of the same symptoms.

Hipple now works as the outreach coordinator with the Depression Center and goes around the country speaking to both young people and the general public about the importance of recognizing and treating the symptoms of depression and suicide. He particularly wants to educate boys and men about the importance of asking for the help they may need and debunking the “tough guy” myth.

“What you don’t know, can hurt you,” he said. “I hope that each person this books reaches will know that they are not alone.”

The Barberton community has lost a higher than average number of people to suicide. Between 2007 and 2011, 23 people have died by suicide. The County of Summit ADM board, the city of Barberton, the Barberton Community Foundation, Barberton City Schools and the Summit County Suicide Prevention Coalition sponsored the presentation.

For more information on suicide prevention visit the Suicide Prevention Resources Center at www.sprc.org or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at www.afsp.org .