‘Hang onto me, and we’ll get help together’

Tony Lange

Former NFL player addresses warning signs of depression

If you think an NFL linebacker delivers a hard hit, try bouncing back up after getting tackled by depression. Eric Hipple, former Detroit Lions quarterback, is familiar with both.

The retired star athlete, author of “Real Men Do Cry” and former Fox Sports analyst, gave an interactive presentation at the Kiva last night prior to a meet-and-greet.

After being an unsung fourth-round draft selection who didn’t step foot on the field during his rookie year, Hipple stunned the football world in a 1981 debut performance many Detroit fans will never forget, Kent State Director of Athletics Laing Kennedy said during his introduction.

Even more unforgettable would be what happened to Hipple nearly 20 years after that nationally televised Monday night game. His 15-year-old son, Jeff, committed suicide. Hipple was sacked unlike ever before.

Without prior knowledge about the symptoms of depression, Hipple was blind to recognizing the silent warning signs surrounding his son until after it was too late. Jeff had every indication ranging from his sleep, appetite, withdrawal and loss of pleasure, Hipple said.

“I would take him to the doctor and the doctor would look at him and say, ‘It’s probably the flu,'” Hipple said. “(Jeff) would say, ‘I just don’t feel good.’

“‘Well, why don’t you feel good?’ the doctor would ask. ‘I don’t know, I just don’t feel good.’ Those were really the only words he could say.”

During his recovery process, Hipple said his son’s suicide started to make more sense as he learned about the signs of depression.

“Depression? You got a name for this stuff,” Hipple said recalling his learning experience.

Hipple now acts as a motivational speaker and outreach coordinator at the University of Michigan Depression Center. His messages of hope, as a suicide survivor, are aimed at helping communities become more educated about how depression affects men and those around them.

Robert Clouden, a member of Delta Tau Delta, observes depression on a weekly basis. Working as a security adviser, he notices two to three attempted suicides on campus every week, he said. That’s one of the reasons his fraternity raised $500 to help co-sponsor Hipple’s Kent State visit.

“I don’t want to hear of my brothers or friends attempting to do something like this, nor do I want to go to work and have to deal with it,” said Clouden, whose fraternity lost two members to suicide in the past decade. “We looked for the most qualified person to talk to our students, and (Hipple’s) name was brought up multiple times.”

The key to prevention is repetitive care and support, Hipple said, summing his message up with his “deep-dark well story”: The first person who walked by a deep hole in the ground peered down and saw a helpless victim. He threw a rope down and pulled it back out only to find the other end, he said.

“I guess that time the victim didn’t want to be helped,” Hipple said sarcastically.

The second person to walk by thought he could save the victim by filling up the hole with water, allowing the victim to swim out, he said. The victim drowned.

“We’ve got to help in the right way,” Hipple said.

The third person to walk by climbed down into the hole and discovered the victim too tired and exhausted to hold onto a rope or tread water, so he told the victim to hold on while they climbed out together, Hipple said.

“Hang onto me, and we’ll get help together,” Hipple said. “When you ask someone how they are doing, sometimes you have to do it three times.”

Contact social services reporter Tony Lange at [email protected].