Health & Safety

September 27, 2012

Retired NFL player speaks about seeking help for mental illness

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Natalie Lakosil
Staff Writer
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Herschel Walker signs a copy of his book, “Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder,” for Angel and James Weathers at the Thunder Mountain Activity Centre on Sept. 20. The Weathers have a child who suffers from DID like Walker.

Retired national football league player and mixed martial arts fighter, Herschel Walker, visited Fort Huachuca Sept. 20 to discuss the importance of seeking help for mental illness.

Walker, who is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder or multiple personalities, visits installations, speaking with Soldiers about the importance of asking for help.

“There is no shame in asking for help and that’s what I am here to say, if you … or your friend is struggling with anything, there is no shame in asking for help because I have [done it], and it’s been the best thing in the world to happen to me,” Walker told members of the Fort Huachuca Warrior Transition Unit.

“We all have problems. We get too ashamed of our problems that we try to hide them, but I am here to tell you right now there isn’t shame in admitting that you have a problem, because admitting I had a problem was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he added.

He also met with Fort Huachuca Garrison Commander Col. Dan McFarland, Lt. Col. Chris Milstead, Raymond W. Bliss Army Medical Center, and psychologist Lt. Col. John Via, U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence. McFarland gave Walker a brief history of the fort and what makes the installation different from others. Milstead and Via discussed mental health issues in the military.

“We have got more psychologists, more psychiatrists, more everything, more money to our behavioral health assets to take care of our Soldiers. … We have made some progress but we need to make more progress in making it acceptable and you talked about that,” Milstead told Walker. “Make it more acceptable for Soldiers to ask for help when they need help, not make it a negative stigma, and it certainly helps to have one of the most famous sports stars around to come out and tell our young folks, sometimes people need help. We can have all those assets available but it won’t work if people don’t make use of it, so I appreciate you coming.”

Walker discussed how after visiting installations across the United States, he sees that most of the leaders have been open to his message. “I think that is what makes it great; you guys are really really trying to get ahead of it and it makes a really big difference,” he said.

While meeting with the commander and medical personnel, Walker was informed of the numbers the Army has been seeing regarding mental health help.

“The rates have more than doubled on how much demand there is now. It is up to 20 percent of service members that are endorsing systems now on something they can get help with, increased from 10 percent in 2005 to 20 percent in 2010. … So it is important to get the message out, that it works, you can come out on the other side stronger than you have ever been,” Via told Walker.

Walker ended the day at the Thunder Mountain Activity Centre in front of more than 300 attendees. He spoke once again about the importance of asking for help if someone needs it and his personal struggles.

“We get down and think we are in hell, down in the trash, think we can’t make it anymore, but that’s God saying ‘get up, I don’t care how many times you get knocked down you get up and there will be light at the end of the tunnel.’ … You have to get up, you can’t stay down, you have to get up,” he told the crowd.

Walker described how he always dreamt of becoming a Marine but flipped a coin and took the college route instead. He attended the University of Georgia. He also told the crowd his main reason for wanting to be a Marine and working out as a child was because of his anger towards everyone in his life that had put him down.

“It’s strange because people look at me as being this football player, and they don’t know as a little kid growing up I used to have a speech impediment where I would stutter so bad I couldn’t put a sentence together and I used to be a little overweight. … It didn’t really make me feel good about who I was,” Walker said.

“So it was strange because I decided after getting beat up one day, ‘enough of this beating, I am tired of getting beat up.’ As I went home, I started doing this crazy amount of push ups and sit ups, I’m not a weightlifter, and that’s how I started working out and because I believed in that, I started to get a little bit bigger. And I taught myself to read and all that stuff, I had teachers put me in the corner, told me I couldn’t learn and I taught myself to learn,” he added.

Walker briefly touched on his family life, “my son, he’s 12, opened my eyes to how beautiful the world is. If I had not gone to get help, what kind of relationship would he and I have today? That’s what is so important to me, that this little boy that I love — my joy.”

Walker also signed autographs and took pictures after his presentation with everyone who wanted one.




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