The thing about battling depression is that it helps to talk about it.
It really, really helps.
I learned that the first time I felt like killing myself, when I was in seventh grade. I woke up my mom in the middle of the night and told her that I felt like I wanted to die.
The only reason I only talked to her that night was because I did not know how to kill myself.
If I had any kind of access to a firearm, I would not be here. I would be remembered, by some, as that seemingly happy kid who shot himself in January of 1988. (Click here for the podcast version of this column.)
Just saying out loud what I was thinking and seeing my mom’s reaction actually helped snap me out of that deep depression just enough.
The bet is that most people who followed through with suicide never talked to anybody first. If they had, they would probably still be here.
In the years since night in seventh grade, I have battled depression off and on. The times when I snapped out of it the fastest came when I talked about it or wrote about it.
Staying silent only made the dark times darker. It made the despair so much harder to take.
That is why it was so disheartening to see that a high school boys’ basketball coach in Big Sandy, Montana apparently lost his job because he openly discussed his own depression and suicidal thoughts with his players.
Instead of seeing if coach Thomas Dilworth needed some help, the school district placed him on administrative leave.
In his previous five seasons coaching the Pioneers, Dilworth said he did not have one negative review. His team did not play in the Class C State tournament, but that did not stop the school district from bringing the coach back for a sixth season.
It was not until after the coach spoke to his players that the district sat him down.
Dilworth said he has struggled with his mental health and depression since he was 14. He said he battles post-traumatic stress, and he recently went through a tough custody dispute involving his daughter, who moved to Germany.
“I felt overwhelmingly compelled that I needed to kind of share what I had been going through the last two years with the boys, and I did,” the coach told MTN Sports.
He said he told the players how tough it was to move forward each day. He even said he gave up driving at times because he kept thinking about which pole he would run his vehicle into.
The coach went to Facebook to tell people that he did not voluntarily step down, like Big Sandy Public Schools Superintendent Dan Schrock claims.
Maybe his openness about his depression and mental health battles is not what forced the district to sideline the coach. Maybe there is something else that they are not telling us.
Right now, though, it sure looks like the district is punishing the coach for doing exactly what he should do if he is suffering in the darkness of depression.
He should talk about it.
In doing so, the coach also showed the players that it is OK to talk about such feelings. They can see that a tough guy can still be vulnerable to feeling sad.
Then, the school district contradicted that brave message.
Most people suffer some kind of depression or mental health issues. It is just a fact of life. Most people who say they do not, are lying through their teeth.
That is because society has made sure that depression and mental health issues come with a stigma, and that stigma kills.
By getting rid of a coach because he spoke out about his battles, we are sending a horrible message to children and adults alike. We are setting a dangerous and deadly precedent.
“My biggest concern is the message that has been sent to the kids about if you talk about mental health, there’s going to be a bad consequence,” Dilworth told MTN Sports.
A little more than four years ago, I lost one of my best friends, Joe, to suicide.
Everyone was shocked that Joe took his own life. Joe, who had sole custody of his young son, always seemed happy.
Coincidentally, the day Joe passed away came on the same day that I found myself falling into the dark beast that is depression.
I was with my family at Lagoon, an amusement park in Farmington, Utah. Lagoon is our happy place, but for some reason I was not feeling happy.
My wife and three kids were in the pool at Lagoon A Beach when I suddenly started to feel really sad. I had no idea why I felt so down, but I felt like I had to get out of the water and get dressed.
I found an empty table and sat by myself. Despite the sounds of laughter and happiness of hundreds of people enjoying the beautiful summer day, I felt the uncontrollable urge to cry.
So, I put my head down on the table as the unexplained tears streamed down my face.
Eventually, I pulled my head up and thought about my friend Steve Vezina, the Dillon coach who was beloved by so many. Vez passed away nearly a year before this Lagoon trip, and I remembered a couple of years before when I was sitting in the same area as the Katy Perry song “Roar” came over the speakers.
That is the song that accompanied the tribute video the students and teachers of Beaverhead County High School made for Vezina when he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
I texted Vez to tell him that they were playing his song in Utah.
Vezina had such a love of life. It was so great that it took cancer four years to take him when it should have only taken four months.
I remembered how much Vez loved to live, and I laughed at the thought of the kick in the ass he would have given me for feeling sad at such a happy place.
With that, the darkness faded into light. I went back into the locker room, changed into my swim shorts and got back in the pool.
That time, I was able to conquer the beast that is depression. At the same time, my friend Joe was losing his battle.
Hardly a day goes by when I do not think of Joe. I cannot help but think that his life would have been saved if he would have just talked to someone. Anyone.
I cannot help but think that he would still be here if he had a coach or friend like Coach Dilworth.
The coach should be praised for his honesty, courage and leadership. His words might have saved his life, and they might have saved the lives of some of his players.
Sidelining the coach for speaking truth to the stigma only makes the stigma more powerful.
If his benching really was about his words to his players, then those who made the decision should be ashamed of themselves.
When offered the decision to try to save lives from the darkness of depression and mental illness, they chose to do the opposite.
In doing so, they went against everything being an educator should be all about.
— Bill Foley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Listen to the ButteCast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Dial 9-8-8 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.