MASON CITY, Iowa - Around 43 million people in the United States battle mental health and substance abuse issues, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association.
For those battling, there comes a stigma that they are weak to seek help, but one group is looking to eliminate that, and that includes a former No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft.
Ryan Leaf is a former top prospect who was drafted second only to Peyton Manning in 1998.
“It was a dream come true,” he said. I wanted this my entire life since I was like four.”
But Leaf said his dream quickly took a turn when mental health and substance abuse got in the way, which is why he spoke to mental health experts, drug prevention specialists and students at NIACC on Wednesday.
“I failed at the highest level in front of everybody, and instead of asking for help and being a mentee to one of the many mentors, I backed myself into a corner,” Leaf said.
Now his goal is to end the stigma that exists surrounding those who have mental health and drug abuse issues. He said it can happen to anyone. Dr. Scott Miller agrees.
“If we can get them through the door and in to care, it’s just as effective as most medical treatments,” said Dr. Miller.
Miller spoke from what he has seen on a daily basis working with those who are struggling.
While he says North Iowa is doing a good job of providing help for those suffering, people have to want help and seek it out.
“If you think about a stigma around cancer or dental treatment, people wouldn’t go in and generally problems become much worse,” he said.
That is why Leaf continues to give speeches like the one at NIACC about his time in the NFL. He hopes to help others, and that includes other athletes.
“Anytime I see or hear a peer of mine, which runs any athletic, basketball, baseball, football, are struggling with those things, I reach out,” Leaf said.
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