Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott Talks Mental Health

Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott Talks Mental Health

Professional football players seem invincible, but beneath their imposing physical stature, they face the same mental health issues as the rest of us. In fact, considering the number of hits to the head and concussions they experience, they’re often at increased risk of anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, and more. Research shows that due to the stigma attached to mental health problems as well as other reasons, these sports superstars often choose to stay silent about their inner issues.

Not Dak Prescott.

The quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys recently spoke openly about his own struggles with anxiety and depression following his brother’s suicide, his mother’s battle with colon cancer, and the pandemic. On “In Depth with Graham Bensinger,” Prescott says, “I think that it’s important to be vulnerable, to be genuine, and to be transparent.” The QB says he got the help he needed, and it allowed him to get over his mental health issues.

Not everybody in the NFL is so lucky. Take Aaron Hernandez, for example. Hernandez played for the New England Patriots and went from living the dream as an NFL player to being deeply troubled and convicted of murder. He eventually died by suicide at age 27.

Studying the Brains of NFL Players

Amen Clinics has been treating professional football players and studying their brains for over a decade. In 2009, Amen Clinics performed the world’s first and largest brain imaging study on active and retired NFL players. Many of them complained of memory problems and scored very poorly on the cognitive tests. As a group, their brain SPECT scans looked awful. SPECT is a functional brain imaging technology that measures blood flow and activity in the brain. It shows areas that have healthy activity, too much activity, or not enough activity.

The treatment arm of this study included brain health education and targeted nutraceuticals. The Amen Clinics protocol used in the study demonstrated increased blood flow to multiple brain areas, including the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, and improvements in memory, attention, and processing speed.

In a 2011 study by Amen Clinics on 100 active and former NFL players, the results were very clear: Playing football damaged multiple areas of the brain in greater than 90% of the players. There was persistent damage to the following areas of the brain:

  • Prefrontal cortex (judgment, planning, forethought, and impulse control)
  • Temporal lobes (learning, memory, and mood stability)
  • Cerebellum (mental agility and processing speed)

When there is damage to these areas of the brain, it can lead to cognitive and psychiatric issues. In this study, 83% of the football players had memory problems, and 29% had a history of depression.

Head Trauma, Mental Well-Being, and Cognitive Health

You don’t have to be a professional football player to experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that impacts your mental and cognitive health. Playing tackle football at any level can put you at risk for head injuries. So does hitting soccer balls with your head, falling off a skateboard or bike, or getting hit in the head with a hockey puck or a baseball. Many head injuries are caused by everyday accidents like falling off a ladder, slipping in the shower, or being involved in a car accident.

Brain SPECT imaging shows that head trauma is a major cause of psychiatric illness. However, very few people know it because most mental health professionals never look at the brains of their patients. A wealth of research shows that head injuries increase the risk of:

Unfortunately, most people never make the connection between their mental health issues and a head injury that may have happened weeks, months, or even years earlier. This can lead to years of unnecessary suffering.

Help for Healing from Head Injuries

If you (or a loved one) have suffered a head injury, there is hope for healing. First, you have to fall in love with your brain and get serious about brain health. This includes good nutrition, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and avoiding exposure to toxic substances (including alcohol and drugs). In addition, here are some specific strategies for anyone who’s suffered a head injury.

Protect your head from future injuries:

Experiencing multiple head injuries increases the risk of anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, memory loss, and other issues. If you’ve already experienced a TBI, it’s even more important to avoid another one.

Check your hormone levels:

Blows to the head often damage the pituitary gland, which regulates your hormones, causing major hormonal imbalances that can cause symptoms related to depression, anxiety, brain fog, and more.

Neurofeedback:

This non-invasive treatment may help you gain control of your brain waves through self-regulation. There are more than 1,000 studies showing that neurofeedback can help with TBI, depression, ADD/ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), addiction, memory in healthy people, and more.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT):

HBOT is a simple, non-invasive, painless treatment that uses the power of oxygen to enhance the healing process and boost blood flow. Brain imaging studies using SPECT show that people who have had HBOT have marked improvement in blood flow to the brain. A 2013 study in Plos One on 56 mild TBI patients with post-concussion syndrome showed that HBOT improved cognitive and emotional functioning and quality of life.

HBOT has been used to improve many issues, including TBI, anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention problems, memory problems, and more. NFL Hall-of Fame quarterback Joe Namath revealed that he used HBOT to help heal the damage to his brain from at least 5 concussions he had suffered. He had been concerned about the health of his brain and got a SPECT scan from a hospital in Florida, which revealed evidence of TBI.

Head trauma, anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, and other mental health conditions—can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

4 Comments

  1. Exploring brain care options after TBI, overseas deployment & pandemia.

    Comment by Daniel M. Kennedy — October 5, 2020 @ 5:17 AM

  2. I would love to get a spect brain study I have depression and anxiety and autism. And many other mental health issues.

    Comment by Kelsie Duran. — October 5, 2020 @ 9:09 AM

  3. PLEASE MAKE THESE IMPORTANT ARTICLES SHARABLE ON INSTAGRAM. COLLEGE STUDENTS ARE MORE CONNECTED ON IG THAN THE PLATFORMS YOU HAVE ABOVE.

    Comment by Holly Jeske — October 5, 2020 @ 12:19 PM

  4. I was born Aspergers, played football and had 5 concussions and 2 tbi’s. I used hyperbaric chambers a half dozen times, and found it produces the same healing and Flow as The Zone. Dr. Amen, we spoke about this at A4M conference 6 years ago. It’s time we partnered on the documentary I started. Remember, my book ignited the globally popular Heart Tap point to the Heaven’s gesture. Let’s talk.

    Comment by Mark Wenner — October 7, 2020 @ 4:31 AM

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