NFL star Herschel Walker speaks out about mental illness
Story by: Rayna Holley
Photo by: John Wayne Liston
NFL legend Herschel Walker speaks with service members and Madigan staff about his personal struggle with mental illness Feb. 7. Walker hopes his story will encourage others to seek treatment.
NFL legend and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker has a message for service members who may be suffering in silence from some form of mental illness. “Get help.”
Walker, who gained notoriety playing for teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, spoke to a full house at Madigan Army Medical Center with the hope that his personal story would help service members see that admitting they need behavioral health treatment is not a sign of weakness.
“I think we’ve become a society that sometimes forgets about what our service men and women do for us. They give us our freedom. So, I want to thank them first of all. The second thing I want them to know is, I’m here to help you,” said Walker.
In his 2008 book “Breaking Free,” Walker publically admits he’s struggled with mental health since childhood, but was unaware of his illness until he retired from the NFL in 1997. That’s when he started to notice changes in himself.
“I thought I was losing my mind, I literally thought I was losing my mind,” said Walker.
With his football career over, Walker was forced to confront his disorder head on.
“I was using football as my coping mechanism. Some people use drugs or alcohol. I used football.”
Walker said he started acting violently towards his now ex-wife, Cindy. In one instance, Walker held a straight razor to Cindy’s throat for hours before choking her until she passed out. Walker said the smallest things would send him into an uncontrolled rage. He even began hearing voices in his head. After an incident in which Walker grabbed a gun with the intent of killing a man, he realized he needed help. He checked himself into a state hospital and was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder. Dissociative identity disorder, or DID, is simply the lack of one cohesive personality.
“I got personalities that do a lot of things. There’s a guy in me that won the Heisman, there’s also a guy that wanted to kill me. But I accept all of them because they’re me,” said Walker.
There is no medication to treat DID but after years of psychotherapy and counseling, Walker now has his illness under
control. Walker credits asking for help with saving his life.
“One of the best things to ever happen to Herschel Walker wasn’t winning the Heisman trophy, but going to the hospital. If I had not gone to the hospital I would be dead today. If I had not gone to the hospital, I would have killed my ex wife. And to me, that’s a blessing, that today I can be free,” said Walker.
Walker wants service members who may be secretly suffering from mental illness to know they are not alone and that admitting they need help is not a sign of weakness.
“When I came out years ago I was hurting. But you know what, I’m not ashamed of who I am. I love who I am. I’ve played football. I’ve done all those things, but if I’m going to go down in history as anything, I want to go down in history for admitting I had a problem” said Walker.
“We get thrown so many curveballs in life, don’t be afraid to get up there and swing.”
For more information on behavioral health and when to seek treatment, please visit www.militaryonesource.mil or call Madigan Army Medical Center Behavioral Health Services at 253-968-2700. If you or someone you know are contemplating suicide, please call 911 immediately.
Bldg 9040 Fitzsimmons Drive Tacoma, WA 98431 Directory assistance: (253) 968-1110 DSN: 782-1110