Tony Dorsett Says He's Dealt With Depression And Suicidal Thoughts
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11-18-13 Category: Mental Health


Various cases of traumatic brain injuries, countless concussions, deaths from head collisions (mostly among high school and college players), one NFL player’s suicide, and bullying accusations are bringing the National Football League (NFL) to a breaking point: adapt or die.

Former professional football player, Tony Dorsett, is disclosing his personal struggles in an effort to get health insurance coverage for retired NFL players. Tony’s own quality of life and memory are quickly deteriorating from what has been diagnosed as CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

Taking Action

Former players Joe DeLamielleure and Leonard Marshall have also been diagnosed with CTE, a concussion-related, permanent brain injury, degenerative in nature. A lawsuit was filed, by Dorsett, DeLamielleure, and Marshall, based on the irreversible brain damage experienced. The concussion-related lawsuit ended up awarding these men $765 million.

The Symptoms and Diagnoses

Tony Dorsett, and the other players involved in the lawsuit, began experiencing depression, memory loss, and thoughts of suicide, triggering a need for medical and mental health attention. Tony had tests, evaluations, and brain scans done at UCLA in Los Angeles, California.

On the flight to LA, Tony told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that he had moments of not remembering why he was on an airplane or when he was going. He has experienced this before when traveling, and has had similar memory lapses when driving his two daughters to and from school or soccer or volleyball practice.

Tony Dorsett was diagnosed with CTE and unfortunately, right now, there is no cure for the disorder. He expresses his concern by saying, “My quality of living has changed drastically and it deteriorates every day. I want to know if this is something that has come about because of playing football.”


Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is described as a buildup of an abnormal protein called tau, which essentially strangles the brain cells that are responsible for memory, emotional regulation, and other key functions. As more cases of CTE surfaced, former NFL players autopsy reports were evaluated, and many (more than 50) included an exceptionally high amount of tau in the brain. Former player, Junior Seau, took his own life last year. When autopsied, the same results were found: Seau had high levels of tau that have been linked to his suicide.

Julian Bailes, co-director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Illinois (right outside of Chicago), and member of TauMark, a research team seeking answers for CTE, says that, “Our preliminary data seems very strong that the areas of the brain and density of the tau signals correlates exactly with what we have found at autopsy.

Until we had the ability to see it in a living, breathing person, we had no chance of helping them, we had no chance of really understanding what happens to the disease. It gives us the ability to track it, to see if it gets worse, or hopefully, maybe it gets better with medication, with intervention, with new discoveries.”

With more information, a possible prevention strategy and treatment approach can be constructed for players in the NFL.

Depression and Suicidal Thoughts

Changes in brain chemistry create mental illnesses in many forms, one of which is depression. Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, complete despair, and thought of suicide are all possible when brain chemicals are out of balance. Changes in sleeping patterns, either an inability to sleep or a desire to sleep more often, along with changes in eating habits, again, either overeating or not feeling hungry at all, are symptoms of depression.

The parts of the human brain that are responsible for mood, sleep, appetite, thinking, and behavior look differently on a brain scan result of a person who is depressed than someone who is not.

In Tony Dorsett’s case, all signs pointed to depression and suicidal thoughts as the result of altered brain chemistry and structure from years of head injuries and subsequent CTE. While he takes responsibility for his choice to play professional football, he believes the NFL should provide health insurance for retired players so that medical and mental health issues can be properly treated.

Treatment for Depression

Although treatment for CTE is still in the works, the symptoms of depression, that lead to suicidal thoughts, can be treated through a combination of medication management and therapeutic interventions. Individual therapy, peer group processing, evaluation for the co occurrence of a substance abuse disorder or eating disorder, art therapy, meditation, yoga, journaling, and many more strategies are used to help each client heal.

At Sovereign Health Group of California, each client is assessed and an individual treatment plan is created based on personal needs. Call now to get started.

Blog post by: Marissa Maldonado

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