Exclusive—Herschel Walker: We Can’t Let Politics Take Away Our Progress in Mental Health

Since retiring from football, it has been my life’s work to encourage people to talk about their mental health problems and convince them that there is no shame in asking for help.  If Herschel Walker can do it, they can too.

This mission has taken me to places all over the world. I have had the honor of speaking with true heroes at hundreds of military bases. These men and women in uniform are under the kind of stress that most people will never experience and can never imagine. I have also spoken to youth groups and mental health organizations and encouraged people who are struggling to seek treatment and find healing like I did.

It’s very gratifying when people tell me that because I was open about my mental health struggles, they had the courage to get help themselves. Sometimes it’s hard to relive those dark days, but it’s all worth it when just one person shares how my story changed their life. One of the blessings of the spotlight is that it gives me the opportunity to touch many lives.

One of the disadvantages of being in the public eye is that you become an easy target, particularly if you enter politics. But that won’t deter me. The media continues to write and rewrite negative stories about my past mental health challenges, even though I have been very transparent about it for decades. I even wrote a book about it fourteen years ago, which the media praised me for at the time. Now, they are joining forces with my political opponents to try to damage me politically. I’m not worried about that — I can take the hits. But they are causing real harm to real people.

They either don’t know or don’t care that in trying to destroy me, they may be destroying others who are very vulnerable and need help. They are sending the message that if you have mental illness, you had better stay quiet about it. If you seek treatment, it may be used against you someday.

We have come so far in this country in the area of mental health. We are erasing the stigma and beginning to treat mental illness like any other illness or injury. This progress was possible because politicians from both sides of the aisle, the medical community, and even the media came together to speak the truth. Yet, some of these same people are choosing politics over the truth. They are turning back the clock on all the progress we have made.

Normally, political battles aren’t life and death situations, but this one is. The COVID pandemic has had a serious impact on the mental health of millions of Americans. Unemployment, fear, and isolation have caused many adults to experience a mental health crisis. The pandemic has really hurt our kids too. We are seeing huge increases in adolescent depression and suicide attempts. The Surgeon General has called it a national emergency.

No one should feel like they have to suffer in silence. But I’m afraid that’s exactly what will happen when people continue to read political hit pieces that demonize and stigmatize mental illness. Is the political benefit really worth the potential loss of life? It can’t be.

If anyone thinks I will back down, they don’t know me. I will stand tall and absorb the blows. I will advocate louder for mental health awareness and treatment.

To those of you who are in pain and afraid to come out of the shadows, I will guide you out. I will support you. I will never stop fighting for you.

I have always believed that my purpose in life was something bigger and more important than football. This is it. Whether I am speaking in a school auditorium, at a military base, or on the floor of the Senate, I will continue to encourage people to get back up when they are knocked down. I will be their voice and will do my best to make sure this country will catch them if they fall.

Herschel Walker is a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Georgia.


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