Will Heininger and Depression

Submitted by Everyone Murders on July 16th, 2014 at 8:42 AM

Angelique Chengelis has a great ARTICLE on Will Heininger's battle with depression while a redshirt freshman.  I had no idea that Heininger had to fight through this, but it's great that he's getting out there and raising public awareness of a very serious mental illness.

“Part of why I understand how serious (mental illness) is, it got to a point it was bad enough, I understood what it felt like to not want to live, which is a scary, scary feeling,” Heininger, 25, said during a recent interview. “If life was that bad, and every day was that hard, how do you do this for a lifetime, let alone another year?” No one knew what he was going through because he didn’t know what it was.

The article mentions that 1 in 5 youths will suffer some sort of mental illness, and the core message here is to seek help if you find yourself in those straits.  According to the CDC,  "for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death." 

Mental illness is real illness, and folks like Will Heininger going public about his illness just may result in people getting the professional help they need rather than trying to deal with it alone.  Hat tip to you, Will Heininger, for your work on this front.



July 16th, 2014 at 9:12 AM ^

around that time.  High School to college, especially a large college like UM, creates a serious small fish-big pond dynamic.  Granted, football players remain a somewhat larger fish but the dynamic is still there.  I know quite a few people, myself included, who had some pretty serious struggles around that time, some that left school completely.  I think the "on your own" feeling takes a while to sink it but once it does, and when it is combined with the college right of passage known as excessive alcohol use, it is disorienting.  Kind of an environmental trigger for depression and other mental illness.


July 16th, 2014 at 9:45 AM ^

My darkest days were the last few months of high school, when 99% of my friends were preparing to go to MSU and my two best friends to east coast schools. I had also been dumped by my girl friend, and I was in a terrible state that whole summer.

But by the end of welcome week at UofM, I had damn near forgot about all of that (probably the booze) and my state of mind took a full 180.


July 16th, 2014 at 12:36 PM ^

Last few months of high school just sucked.  By the end I couldn't wait to get out, get to UofM and just start over.  Ended up probably being the start of the best 5 years of my life, so......

Depression sucks.  Went thorugh it about 13 years ago when a bunch of s*** happened all at once in my life.  It's like you lose all sense of who you used to be and have no idea how to find yourself again.  Really really scary.  I never becaume suicidal but I definitely got to the point where I was somewhat indifferent about whether I continued to live or not.   F***ed up stuff.   Never thought it could happen to me. 


July 16th, 2014 at 8:56 AM ^

I know that this has been mentioned on the board before and that Will has received attention for this in the past. Put google to use if you want to read more about his work.


July 16th, 2014 at 9:10 AM ^

He left his job in the financial sector to return to the program as a recruiting assistant, and, more importantly, to take part in a pilot program funded by the NCAA to increase awareness of mental health issues for student-athletes:

The Michigan athletic department, the Depression Center and School of Public Health were awarded a $50,000 grant from the NCAA to develop the program. “We talk about being leaders and best, where better than Michigan to pioneer something like this?” he said. “In five years, every other school is going to be involved in this. This area, wellness or whatever you want to call it, is going to be huge in terms of resources being poured in. ... The main focus is developing successful people.” Through his experiences, Heininger believes he can help by educating coaches and administrators and, of course, athletes.

And even if there weren't new information, telling his story again might help someone out there who hasn't heard it.


July 16th, 2014 at 9:08 AM ^

“We talk about being leaders and best, where better than Michigan to pioneer something like this?” he said. “In five years, every other school is going to be involved in this. This area, wellness or whatever you want to call it, is going to be huge in terms of resources being poured in. ... The main focus is developing successful people.”

We've talked about Heininger's work with this before on the board, but it is something that we probably should discuss periodically because even we as fans, alums and the like throw around the notion of how programs should ideally prepare these players for success on and off the field. At least in my opinion, you're not really doing that as well as you could if you are not addressing the mind, so Heininger is absolutely right - part of developing successful people should be this sort of support. 


July 16th, 2014 at 9:32 AM ^

I'm not generally one to get on a non-football soapbox on a football blog, but I have to say that normalizing mental illness like Will is doing is very important not only for those suffering, but is just as important for their family and friends. I have a good friend go through a depressive episode and the whole time (about 5 or 6 months) her family was telling her to suck it up and stop being dramatic regarding her changed behavior. DO NOT DO THIS. Luckily her other friends and I convinced her there was a problem even though she had been raised to just deal with it and she got help without her family knowing. That's all. Just don't assume you know what people are going through. I love that a big jock is coming out to talk about this issue. I think it really helps it hit home for people.

Everyone Murders

July 16th, 2014 at 10:02 AM ^

You and the other friends you mention may well have saved your good friend's life.  You likely know that, but it's worth mentioning all-the-same.

My point in posting the article and commenting upon it is to not only reach out to those who may be dealing with depression and other mental illness, but also to get people to think sympathetically rather than judgmentally about mental illness.  You don't need to suffer from depression to get a basic understanding of it any more than you need to suffer from heart disease to get a basic understanding of it.  It's an illness, plain and simple.

Thanks for underscoring the need to be supportive of those with depression - it's a big part of the battle.


July 16th, 2014 at 9:53 AM ^

Attended the largest high school in Michigan, and went to college across the street. I don't think it had anything to do with big fish syndrome. He is a great guy and teammate. He was a big part of that sugar bowl team, and I hope we have a leader like him on this years squad.

Avon Barksdale

July 16th, 2014 at 9:58 AM ^

As some have noted, I also had to deal with some of these things going from high school to college. Left home, left all my friends behind, broke up with my g/f of four years, and for the first time in my life I wasn't playing a sport to keep me busy. I graduated in three years, so in my second year, I devoted myself to work, school, and social functions and eventually everything worked out.

Glad to see Will is making an impact on something that hits close to home for a great deal of people.


July 16th, 2014 at 10:11 AM ^

Mental illness is a complex beast.  Having dealt with some things myself and finally seeking help, you come to realize that mental illness is far more common than you think (just look at the people whom have already shared in this thread).  Talking with someone you trust can do a lot for you, be it a professional or a personal friend/family member. It can get pretty tough out there in the world, and you don't have to do it alone.  

Monocle Smile

July 16th, 2014 at 10:49 AM ^

I got my depression diagnosis last August, and Heininger's description is freakishly similar to my own aside from the thoughts of not living any more. I consider myself fortunate for never having suicidal thoughts, and I feel for Heininger.

I didn't suffer any family tragedy, I didn't get terminally ill...I just moved a thousand miles away from everyone who ever cared about me and I didn't fully understand what that meant. I didn't even know I had issues until my entire support system was gone.

Depression is largely misunderstood, like most mental illness. It's not a cold you fight for a few days; it's a war you wage in your head on a regular basis. There might not even be triggers; it can strike without warning. Professional help is always advised, but it's best in conjunction with friends and family who understand that their support is appreciated even if it seems to have little effect.


July 16th, 2014 at 11:15 AM ^

For any form of mental issue, but so many people who really need help in this area refuse to acknowledge that they have an issue.

I am in the category of one who has issues and psycho meds (which is a humorous way to describe them) have really solved those issues, or at least have provided a mentality so that I can deal with things in a more reasonable manner.

There are so many people that I encounter on a day-by-day basis who really need help.  They are either pissed at the world, down about their feelings about themselves or how they relate to others.  Take road rage as an example:  When a driver goes bananas because another driver did something that he disagrees with............that's not normal.

The University of Michigan Medical Center has a great psychiatric department.  Go there for help if you have issues.  No one has to know about it but you; it is completely confidential.


July 16th, 2014 at 12:21 PM ^

to take issue with the road rage example as somewhat of a defining characteristic of depression/mental illness.  Some people are just assholes.  Now if road rage is part of a larger pathology that is causing a substantial disturbance is somebody's life, than yeah I think it would be clinically significant, but one of the things that bothers me the most about how mental illness is treated is how people now are just getting diagnosed to excuse a transgression and the mental health professionals that are just handing out diagnoses like candy.  Drunk driving is not a "symptom" or "evidence" of bi-polar, but the first thing that anybody does after they get popped is to run to the diagnosis store down the street.  That is part of the problem with the mental health community right now is that bad life decisions and mental illness are being used interchangeably, and the result is a problem that is largely masked or misunderstood.


July 16th, 2014 at 12:51 PM ^

Sure a lot of people are assholes, but some of the road rage that I have witnessed have led me to conclude that the rager if fucking crazy.

And yes a lot of docs are handing out meds like candy.

I just don't think you understood my post.


July 16th, 2014 at 1:10 PM ^

I guess you are right, there is road rage (me going "AHHHHRRRR!!! Go faster!!" loud enough so that only I can hear it and giving somebody a dirty look as I pass) and fucking-crazy-road- rage (tailgating somebody while brighting them and running stop signs to stay behind them and cutting them off).  In the first one, I am just being an asshole.  The second guy is probably a go for a diagnosis of some sort.

Wolverine Devotee

July 16th, 2014 at 11:55 AM ^

As someone who beat depression but still has mini relapses from time to time, it's a real problem. I had those same thoughts as Will.

I always say Michigan saved my life. When I felt suicidal, I remembered going to games with friends and it made me want more of that.

Wolverine Devotee

July 16th, 2014 at 1:22 PM ^

I was probably at the worst point in early 2011. Football's problems certainly didn't help.

When I hit rock bottom in spring of that year, the instant turnaround that took place after I started getting help was incredible. It also happened at the same time I met a girl who was great to me and even later watched games with me. It all culminated with Michigan beating ohio in November. The Sugar Bowl win was amazing but it didn't feel like beating ohio did.

To go from near......an awful thing to the top in every aspect in 7 months was the greatest and something they write books about.