BYU Football Star Chaz Ah You Talks Openly on Mental Health

Following a loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst found Cowboys QB Dak Prescott to thank him for speaking openly on mental health. Prescott, who had just conducted a 20-point comeback victory, had opened up about his experience with anxiety and depression at the start of coronavirus quarantine earlier in the month. 

The interaction between the two was evidence of a growing movement to end the stigma surrounding mental illness in our society. In reality, mental illness is common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “one in five U.S adults live with mental illness.” BYU football star Chaz Ah You is taking a proactive approach to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness after battling depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts earlier this year. 

“It’s been very hard for me to speak up about it,” Ah You said, “I’ve been dealing with anxiety and depression for a very long time. I noticed it back in elementary school and junior high…to me as a kid I didn’t know what depression really was. Being a football player and very competitive, I wanted to have that mental toughness. My whole life I threw it to the side and called it mental weakness. As I’ve gotten more educated I’ve realized that’s not it at all.” 

Between a global pandemic, social unrest, and the inability to return to normal activities, the year 2020 has brought mental illness to the forefront. As Ah You noted, “I feel like everyone has felt off. At some point through this year, I feel like everyone’s mental health has taken a toll.” 

On top of the challenges facing our society, Chaz was dealing with adversity in his personal life. In February, he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. However, those charges were dropped in March. The situation sent Ah You into a spiral:

“This whole year has been a really hard for me. Obviously, I got falsely arrested off of false charges and false evidence…that was kind of the turning point for me. Seeing how fans were reacting, the public was reacting, I was being criticized by former governors of Utah, former fans, former players. It put me into a very very dark place. I was already in a dark place coming home early from my mission and dealing with the stuff that I was dealing with. I felt like I was making progress in a way, but once that arrest happened it sent me in a spiral and I hit rock bottom. My depression took over, my anxiety took over. Being very open about it, while I have this opportunity to speak about it, while I have this opportunity to talk about mental health, I was very suicidal for a couple months. In April, I was convinced that there was no reason for me to be here anymore, I had planned out everything really.”

Former BYU running backs coach, AJ Steward, noticed a change in Ah You and reached out to Fonda Bryant. Steward had taken a free class from Fonda about suicide prevention.

“That’s when Ms. Fonda Bryant reached out to me on Twitter.” Ah You said. “Instantly I knew that she understood where I was coming from. She said things that I hadn’t heard from anyone else, any therapist, that resonated with me. I felt an instant connection. I can honestly say that Ms. Fonda Bryant kept me alive.” 

Ms. Bryant helped Chaz to understand that he wasn’t alone. She introduced him to the Hilinki’s Hope Foundation – a foundation that “fights for the mental health of student athletes.” 

Ah You said, “I felt that I was the only one that felt that way, especially as a football player. I’m around tough dudes 24/7 from coaches to players to strength coaches to family members even. I really had no reason to feel that way with the small amount of success I’ve felt so far.” 

The information that Ms. Bryant provided became a turning point for Chaz. “That’s when I started to open my mind to the idea that there are other people going through it as well,” Ah You said. “I started meeting weekly with therapists and taking it very serious…I finally started to get this courage that I should do something about this. I should let others know that they’re not alone as well. I know for a fact that there are dudes on my team that are feeling this same exact way, and there are dudes on other teams feeling this way. I started throwing out hints on social media that I felt people could relate to.”

Ah You received a lot of responses from the hints that he put out on social media “I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, especially from men,” Ah You said,”When I started getting messages from grown men, former athletes, current athletes, saying they know exactly what I’m talking about and how I feel, I realized that it’s not just me even more so.”

On what advice he would give to someone who is battling depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, Ah You said: 

“My advice would be to not take it lightly. Don’t throw it to the side, don’t call it weakness…acknowledge it for what it is. It’s a disease – it’s a real disease. If you don’t take serious, it can take over you. That’s exactly what it did to me. It sent me down paths that, if you would have asked me five years ago with the depression I had then, I would have said ‘no, there’s no way I’ll ever do that.’ But I did….Take it serious, educate yourself about it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Ah You’s physicality and toughness on the football field stand out. Ah You says that asking for help is the toughest thing you can do in your battle with mental health: “It’s not tough to throw it to the side and ignore it. It will start to impact your life and it will start to impact your relationships with people. My advice is to meet with a therapist. If they advise you to take medicine then take the medicine. You’ve got to do everything and take is serious cause if not, the disease is going to run away. Before you know it, you’re not going to know who you are anymore and you’re not going know what you want to do in your life anymore.”

In our society of social media, where innocence until proven otherwise feels like a thing of the past, may we be slower to judge and quicker to lend a helping hand. You can find links to resources on suicide prevention below:

Resources:

National suicide prevention lifeline

Hilinksi foundation

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