EAGAN, Minn. (WCCO) – The Minnesota Vikings’ three-time Pro Bowl defensive end hasn’t been with the team for more than a month now.
And while Everson Griffen’s fans and teammates welcomed his return to practice Wednesday, mental health experts are embracing the discussion.
In the rough and tumble world of professional football, there’s a fragility much deeper than muscle strains and broken bones.
Speaking to reporters, Griffen said, “I feel everything happens for a reason and I needed this, to figure out myself and it was a good thing.”
On Sept. 22, Everson Griffen’s struggle with mental health suddenly became public. His erratic behavior, threatening a downtown Minneapolis hotel clerk and later jumping from an ambulance, led to his four-week departure from the team.
“What that tells our community is that it can happen to anyone,” Sue Abderholden said.
Abderholden is Minnesota’s executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She praises both Griffen and the Vikings organization for giving a mental health crisis the proper medical response. And Griffen the time he needed to address his mental health challenges without jeopardizing his place on the team.
But Abderholden says public perceptions have changed in recent years, and more is still needed.
“Unfortunately, we still view it a little differently. People with mental illness still face discrimination which is what makes it hard for someone to come forward and share their story,” Abderholden said.
Griffen told reporters that he is feeling good and taking it one day at a time. Still, he said he’s not yet comfortable detailing where he has been or what his treatment involves.
“I often tell people we all have mental health – some of us struggle with mental illness,” said Jill Wiedmann-West, executive director of People Incorporated.
The Mendota Heights based non-profit helps those struggling with mental health challenges.
Wiedmann-West says that when accomplished people such as Griffen admit their mental health struggles, it makes it more relatable to the common person. And that can go a long way to strip away a reluctance to talk about it.
“It does not define the individual. Depression or anxiety or any mental illness does not define the individual,” Wiedmann-West said.
Regardless of what Griffen is able to do on the field the rest of the season, he quite possibly has already accomplished something far greater.
And that is by bridging the understanding gap between mental and physical well-being.