Getting sacked, bouncing back
HOUGHTON – Eric Hipple had bouts of depression when he was attending Utah State University to play football in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until many years later he realized he had a problem and started getting help for it.
Hipple, who played quarterback for the Detroit Lions for 10 years before retiring, spoke about recognizing the signs of depression and the types of treatment for it at the Magnuson Hotel in Houghton. The event was part of the Copper Country Mental Health Rice Memorial Center recovery lecture series.
After leaving the NFL, Hipple said he became associated with the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center in Ann Arbor, and now he does appearances to talk about his experiences. He also speaks at local schools to explain depression to students. He works with the NFL Players Association, police groups and the United States military.
Hipple said while he attended Utah State University he experienced bouts of depression, but he didn’t know that was the problem.
“Going into my junior year, I just didn’t feel good,” he said.
Having grown up in Southern California, Hipple said he thought the way he was feeling was due to living through a Utah winter. However, he started drinking heavily and haved no desire to do anything.
“I found myself not getting out of bed at all,” he said. “I ended up flunking three classes that year.”
Eventually, Hipple said he got his grades up, and the team won a championship two years in a row. When he finished at Utah State, the Lions drafted him in 1980.
In his 10th year with the Lions, Hipple said he was cut from the team.
“I knew my career was over,” he said.
Hipple said he was 33 years old when he was cut from the Lions.
“One of the things about leaving is, ‘What do I do now?'” he said.
He received a degree in business during his time at Utah State, Hipple said, and with that knowledge he started a business.
“In about six years, I was actually making more money than I did playing football,” he said. “Things were going pretty well.”
However, Hipple said eventually the bouts of depression returned, and he was spending more time at home than at the office.
Much of his day was spent watching television or sleeping, and the business started to suffer.
One day, Hipple said his wife was driving him to Detroit Metropolitan Airport. He handed her a note he just wrote, which stated “I’m sorry. I love you,” then opened the door and jumped out while the car was going 75 mph.
“I don’t remember any of this stuff,” he said. “I remember waking up at the hospital.”
While in the hospital recovering from the injuries he received jumping from the car, Hipple said there was discussion among the doctors about placing him in the psychiatric ward. He denied he had any mental problems.
Three years later, Hipple said his 15-year-old son began showing signs of depression, although Hipple still didn’t realize that’s what it was.
“He didn’t feel good,” he said.
Eventually, Hipple said his son who played for his high school basketball team, was benched because he couldn’t concentrate on playing.
While his son was going through his situation, Hipple said he decided to take him to a doctor, but not to get help.
“I took him to his primary care physician to prove to him things were fine,” he said.
One day, Hipple said he traveled out of town, and while he was gone his son shot himself with a shotgun.
“When that happened, the music died for me,” he said.
He started drinking heavily and taking excessive amounts of anti-depressants, Hipple said.
“I was eating a lot of them,” he said of the medication.
During that period, Hipple said he was arrested for drunk driving, which actually turned out well for him, because the judge put him into program to deal with his problems. However, he didn’t go to the program so the judge jailed him for 15 days, where he started thinking about his situation.
“I wanted answers,” he said.
After getting out of jail, Hipple said he started attending the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center as a patient. He started getting better, and eventually he was hired to do outreach for the organization.
Hipple said the main function of the human brain is to solve problems.
“It likes to have challenges,” he said.
However, when the challenges are too much to deal with, Hipple said the brain tries to find ways to feel good, which can lead to alcohol or drug abuse or obsessive compulsive behavior.
“If I don’t feel good, my brain is going to try to find a solution for it,” he said.
Hipple said one of the points he stresses when talking about depression is that it is a brain illness. There are many ways to address the illness including talking therapies, medications and even surgery.
In order for depression to be treated successfully, Hipple said it needs to be recognized early, but that can be a problem for the people around someone with depression.
“When we see each other every day, you don’t notice things,” he said.
There are physical signs of depression in how a person looks, Hipple said. Lack of appetite or desire to do anything are strong indicators of a problem.
Building up the self-esteem of a person suffering from depression is key to getting that person back to mental health.
“It takes a commitment,” he said. “We have to work on it.”
Some people with depression give up on trying to make themselves better because they have no support from family or friends, Hipple said.
“It’s very important we support each other,” he said.
More information about spotting depression and how to address it can be found online at depressiontoolkit.org.