By John Bassetti
Like a true athlete, Eric Hipple worked up a sweat giving his presentation on depression and its most extreme scenario — suicide — to a group of mostly students at Youngstown State’s Kilcawley Center on Tuesday night.
During his one-hour-plus time on stage in the rather warm Chestnut Room, the former Detroit Lions quarterback gave students something his old NFL team gave fans last season: hope.
Although Hipple’s college and professional sports past set the stage for his talk, the bulk of his material and message centered on the central topic.
Hipple, a 10-year NFL veteran whose career ended in 1989, was dealt a blow when his 15-year-old son committed suicide.
That sent Hipple’s life into a tailspin, but the Lubbock, Texas native managed to piece it back together.
The developments prompted him to seek answers and to help others. Thus, his motivational speaking appearances entitled “You Can Make It” are designed to bring awareness of signs and symptoms of depression and then steps to recovery.
In his power-point presentation, Hipple sprinkled in anecdotes, including some self-deprecating moments on video during his playing days.
In one instance, Hipple showed himself getting blasted during a run along a sideline. The jarring tackle caused Hipple’s helmet to fly off.
“I went back in two plays later,” he said proudly.
Hipple was asked what he’d be doing today if not for his son’s death.
“That’s so hard to say, because, without his tragedy, I don’t know if I would have found my way out. It’s almost through his that I was able to realize mine. So I don’t know. I might not be in a very good place.”
In his talk, Hipple revealed two instances of inexplicable bouts of lethargy, once in college and another, later, in 1997.
“I didn’t feel right and couldn’t get out of bed,” he said of the extended period of depression in college.
It was so severe that, when he finally returned to class, he discovered that he had missed a final exam and failed.
He suffered a similar episode many years later.
Hipple also displayed erratic behavior, such as jumping out of a car at 75 mph after handing a note to his wife who was behind the wheel.
Even while recovering in the hospital, he was uncooperative and resistant to psychological examination.
He said he was unwilling or felt unable to reach out for help.
“I might have gone on these waves,” he said, using an up and down motion with his hands, of what he may still be doing today if not for being awakened by his son’s suicide.
Hipple concentrated his talk on the power of the brain and its ability to solve problems.
“The core mission of the brain is to solve problems,” he said, explaining that it makes decisions both simple and complex.
One of the areas to exam, he said, was genetics.
“You could be predisposed to depression,” he said, noting there was such a trait in his family that wasn’t revealed.
Injury, illness, environment and stress were other factors that could contribute to various degrees of depression.
He gave an example of understanding how your brain works.
“Say you crave something. I might not be able to stop that craving, but I can stop what I do about it. In life itself, I may be a victim of my circumstances, but I have choices out of them. I don’t have to keep going along that path. Just because I’m a victim doesn’t mean I’ll always be a victim. If you’re not able to recognize a bad choice — whether depression or alcoholism or parents’ divorce — and learn from it, then you’ll never be able to also accept when you do a good choice. If something good happens, you’re not going to recognize it; you’re going to think you were lucky instead of realizing that you’re in charge the whole time.”