LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – To many, NFL quarterback, Eric Hipple was living the childhood dream.
“On my debut, on a Monday Night Football game, when I got my first start, it was like everything went perfect,” Hipple said.
His debut for the Detroit Lions came on October 19th, 1981. He threw for four touchdowns and rushed for an additional two, leading the Lions to an impressive 48-17 win over the Chicago Bears.
“I remember standing in the endzone after throwing this long pass that went for a touchdown just listening to the crowd roaring, and the place was going wild. I just sat there and took it all in and it was like wow I made it,” Hipple said.
Hipple put together a 10-year career in the NFL, all with the Lions.
However, he battled much more than just the other teams in the league.
“My struggles actually started when I was in college. I would say I missed a whole quarter of school,” Hipple said. “I was injured and then, you know that process, and then I just couldn’t get out of bed.”
Having played quarterback in college, at Utah State, Hipple saw his battles with mental health carry over into the NFL. During his ten years in Detroit, Hipple had three head coaches and five offensive coordinators. And because of all the change, over the course of his career, Hipple started to lose his love for the game.
“It was in the off-season, I was standing next to a linebacker, we were over at my house, and his name was Ken Fantetti, and I remember talking to him and I said ‘are you happy? I’m not really happy,’ and he goes ‘me either.’ So here we are, we’re both in our prime playing this greatest game, the pinnacle of where you want to get to, and playing a game, and getting paid for it, and neither one of us were happy,” Hipple said.
Those struggles with being happy go way beyond Eric in the Hipple family. Eric’s teenage son, Jeff, also struggled with mental health.
A parent’s worst nightmare
“You could see almost every symptom that was there. I mean sleep problems, concentration, homework started going down to where his grades dropped. Just the sense of his body effect was not only apathetic but also very negative, looking down.”
It ultimately led to Jeff committing suicide at the age of 15.
“After his death, I completely decompensated and just went into this self-destructive world where I just didn’t care,” Hipple said. “I probably, at that time, would rather be dead, but I know, at that time, I wouldn’t be able to take my life because when he did, I realized how it affected other people.”
Teen suicide is the second leading cause of death for those 12-18, reports The Jason Foundation, a teen suicide awareness foundation.
According to the Foundation, more teens die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.
Four out of five teens who attempt suicide give clear warning signs, said the Foundation.
Jeff committed suicide in 2000, which a National Center for Health Statistics study cites as the first year of a worrying trend.
Suicide rates amongst children and young adults have been on a steady increase since 2000, with a stark jump starting in 2017.
In 2010, suicide overtook homicide as the leading cause of “violent deaths”among people aged 10-24.
The trend is present in Michigan as well, with a large, 2-point increase in suicide deaths among teens/young adults occuring in 2010.
In 2009, the teen suicide rate was 6.7 deaths per 100,000 residents. In 2010, it was 8.7.
By 2017, the number was 10.6 per 100,000.
According to a 2019 Center for Disease Control study, 18.8% of high school students reported seriously considering suicide.
How the Coronavirus pandemic is worsening an already alarming trend
According to an American Academy of Pediatrics study, the number of suicidal ideation and attempts grew in 2020 due to the pandemic and lockdowns.
“Significantly higher rates of suicide-related behaviors appear to have corresponded with times when COVID-19 stressors and community responses (e.g., stay-at-home orders and school closures) were heightened, indicating that youth experienced elevated distress during these periods,” reads an excerpt from the study.
How Hipple broke the cycle
With the emotions of his son’s suicide still fresh, Hipple seek helped.
“I found myself at the University of Michigan Depression Center,” said Hipple. “Got some treatment, and more importantly, I got some education on what this thing is. My jaw actually dropped. I was like shocked ‘what you guys know about this thing. you have a named for it.'”
So, once Hipple started understanding more about mental health, he started using his experience and his platform to help others. Which led him to writing the book ‘Real Men Do Cry.’
“That was kind of the emphasis behind the book, real me do cry, you know letting guys out there know, ‘dude, crying’s ok.’ There’s a time and a place for it like everything, but you need to have that because there is times when it is absolutely necessary, and it’s healthy, and you need to do it,” Hipple said.
Seven years ago, Hipple pitched a peer-to-peer campaign to the Detroit Lions, as a way for the organization’s alumni to stay connected. A big reasoning Hipple wanted to start it was because he struggled adjusting to life after football and knows he’s not the only one to face those struggles.
Hipple also helps others that are struggling with mental health through the campaign ‘be nice.’
“Nice stands for, Notice, Invite, Challenge and Empower,” Hipple said. “It’s all about mental health. It’s all about recognizing things, inviting yourself in or inviting somebody else into you, if you need it. It’s about challenging stigma, challenging the status quo. It’s about challenging the words that we use, and it’s about empowering yourself.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can get mental health assistance by clicking here.
The number for the National for National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They’re committed to improving crisis services and advancing suicide prevention by empowering individuals, advancing professional best practices, and building awareness.
You can also find help by clicking here.