ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Heisman Trophy winner and former running back, Herschel Walker, talked about his experience with mental health when visiting the 97th Air Mobility Wing, Feb. 12, 2020. While here, he was able to host two talking sessions highlighting mental health through the Patriot Support Program.
“I had always wanted to be a Marine growing up, but at a literal coin toss I decided to pursue college football,” said Walker. “I still have a great respect for the military though, they are some of the greatest people I have ever met. The sacrifices they make are unmeasurable and I appreciate any opportunity to help the military in any way I can. If even only one or two people go seek help after hearing what I have to say, that is more than enough of a reward for doing all of this.”
The Patriot Support Program promotes an anti-stigma campaign in partnership with Walker to encourage service members to seek help for mental health and substance abuse issues. Walker has made 300 visits to military installations since partnering with Patriot Support Program in 2008.
After Walker’s football career, his family noticed he struggled with anger management. It took years for him to act on his family’s concerns and eventually visited a doctor who diagnosed him with dissociative identity disorder (DID). Walker admits that it took him a while to recognize he needed additional help.
“After I got help it was a feeling that no other person could give you,” said Walker. “When you are struggling, it’s like you are imprisoned and there is no freedom or joy to be found. Being able to set myself free was a weight lifting experience and I hope others have faith to do the same.”
Walker visits military installations to share his personal story and experience with mental illness while delivering his important message to the troops, “There is no shame in getting help, I did.”
“All the anger that I had after playing professional football came from issues which I didn’t even know I had,” said Walker. The reason I worked so hard all my life, came from insecurities as a child of never being good enough. Throughout my life all that energy was spent in becoming the best I could be, but that was never good enough for myself.”
For some, seeking out mental health assistance is a struggle as people don’t recognize when they need help. When speaking with service members, Walker urges that treatment can only begin when one asks for help.
“Through the combined efforts of others caring for me and a personal drive to be better, it made me want to seek help,” said Walker. “I asked for help; I admitted that there is a problem and I consider myself a tough guy, but asking for help and realizing there was a problem was one of the toughest things I’ve done.”
Growing up, Walker was only allowed to watch films that had a positive message because his mother wanted him to learn something from it. Walker attributes his mentality to his upbringing and now uses his experiences in life as examples to find positive messages in hard times.
“I get my motivation on how to stay positive from my mom and dad,” said Walker. “Through them raising me the way they did, I was able to accomplish anything I wanted. I would like others to keep that mindset with them to obtain their dreams. You have to keep faith in that whatever you’re going through, you can overcome it.”
After getting help Walker was able to understand the reasons behind his actions. Since then, he has learned to enjoy activities that once challenged him before.
“We always have problems to dig out through our life,” said Walker. “We are always going through something and sometimes will fail at it, but the main thing is, failure isn’t the end and the push to continue to try, means everything.”
Walker is one of many who have struggled with mental health and has come back stronger from it. The Military and Air Force have several departments devoted to assisting service members with mental health. For more information or to get help, military members can contact Military OneSource at (800)342-9647 and civil service members can contact the Employee Assistance Program at (866)580-9078.