Sharing experience and hope
Telling His Story to Save Others
Eric Hipple is not a psychiatrist or a mental health clinician. So when he travels to area schools to speak to students about suicide prevention, his audience often wonders why a retired Detroit Lions quarterback cares about it in the first place. Hipple’s credibility comes from personal experience after losing his son to suicide in 2000, something he shares with others every day to prevent it from happening to them.
Hipple is the outreach coordinator for the U-M Depression Center, spreading the dual message of depression warning signs and suicide prevention. He speaks to a variety of audiences, from students and parents, to local organizations and businesses. He has co-authored a study about depression and pain in retired professional football players and is even featured in a Depression Center documentary about men and depression. Anything to get the word out.
“Ninety percent of all suicides are due to some type of untreated or undiagnosed mental illness, depression being one of those,” he says. “If someone suffers from depression and does not get treatment, the chance of them taking their own life is greater than someone who is treated.”
Students have been responsive to Hipple’s message, which is usually tied in with his experiences in the NFL to grab their attention. He says kids often relate the signs and symptoms of depression to their own lives and families. Working closely with school counselors, he ensures resources are readily available for students in need. Sometimes, Hipple says, simply understanding the cause of depression can help children or their parents take necessary steps to treatment.
“In talking with kids, you can tell them what’s going on inside their brains, how stress is involved, why they may have stomachaches or why they feel sad. There is a chemical part of the brain that isn’t working, the neurotransmitters aren’t communicating and so depression is the result.”
Hipple also speaks to groups of parents to educate them on warning signs to look for in their kids. He shares with them his own personal story of loss and offers resources, whether through the U-M Depression Center, their local community or other mental health organizations.
“Parents need to understand that suicide can happen. They are trying to decipher what to be worried about and what is normal behavior. The truth is that there is rarely a clear line. I tell them to start looking for risk factors that might set off a downward spiral,” says Hipple.
Hipple is always looking to add more parent groups to his growing list of engagements, which include speaking to community forums, groups of athletes, members of the military and their families, and inmates at correctional facilities. The audiences for his message are vast and diverse, but the central theme of Hipple’s message resonates with them all.