PATUXENT RIVER NAVAL AIR STATION, MD–Herschel Walker, former professional football player, Heisman Trophy winner, and Olympic athlete, visited NAS Patuxent River June 9 to visit with installation and tenant command personnel and discuss the importance of mental health. Walker serves as a spokesman for the Patriot Support Programs’ Anti-Stigma Campaign, and visits military installations to share his story of dealing with dissociative identity disorder and discuss the importance of seeking help when needed.
At every stop on his tour of Pax River, Walker would discuss highlights of his career, sign autographs, and take photos with fans. But he would always remind all in attendance of his reason for being there.
“There is no shame in getting help,” said Walker. “I did.”
Walker made visits to the Naval Health Clinic Patuxent River, and Air Operations Tower before speaking to a limited crowd of 100 in the Drill Hall. There he relayed his experiences of coming to terms with his own mental health, how it affected his family and friends, and finally reaching out for help.
“The best thing that ever happened to Herschel Walker was not the Heisman Trophy, it was not playing in the NFL; it was going to a behavioral health hospital.”
Walker explained that one of the hardest things for people who are suffering to do is ask for help, especially when there is a perceived expectation to hide it.
“We see it every day in professional sports; I worked with a player who spoke up about being depressed, and was vilified for it,” said Walker. “But no one was asking him why he felt that way. His mother had died and his brother committed suicide. But he was reaching out for help.”
He said that stress can impact people in different ways, but in the end if someone needs help they should ask and receive it with no fear.
“The thing people don’t understand is that mental health is different for everyone,” said Walker. “As service members, you go down range, you see and smell and do things that most people never will, and while some may be able to deal with it well, not everyone can. But people don’t want to talk about it. It doesn’t make them bad at what they do, they just need some help. And that’s what we need to get them comfortable doing without hesitation.”
Walker followed his remarks at the Drill Hall with squadron tours at HX-21 and VX-1 to speak with their personnel as well, eventually closing his tour with a visit to the Security Department personnel at Gate 1.
While many thanked him for visiting and sharing his experiences, Walker was quick to point out that the service members he talks to on these tours make as much an impact on him.
“It’s not just you; you’re doing everything you can for other people, you wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t the case,” walker said of the military personnel and veterans at Pax. “It takes you guys to make me be Herschel Walker.”
To learn more about the Patriot Support Programs of Universal Health Services Anti-Stigma Campaign, visit https://patriotsupportprograms.com/about-us/anti-stigma/.