More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Troubled Star, Terrell Owens, Serves as Reminder of Mental Health Problems' Many Forms
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Most sports fans, and probably even those of you who don't know a homerun from a touchdown, will probably have heard by now about Cowboy's star receiver Terrell Owens's suicide attempt last night. At first reported as an adverse reaction to pain medication prescribed for his broken hand, Owens's hospital visit was revealed this morning to have been related to an incident in which the football star swallowed upwards of 30 prescription painkillers. The spin machine has already gone to work as the woman who called 911 from Owens's home, who has been identified as his publicist Kim Etheridge, says that police and the press have misinterpreted the situation.

More information will undoubtedly begin to trickle out, but as it has been reported by the police Owens, when asked, responded that he was in fact trying to do harm to himself. The report also quotes "a friend," presumably Etheridge as saying that Owens told her he was depressed. The Cowboys, one of the NFL's premiere organizations, and Owens's camp have begun to return to the story of an adverse drug reaction in the time since the story hit the airwaves this morning.

Owens's history in the NFL is one of nearly constant trouble and controversy. This timeline from ESPN hits all the pertinent details, but highlights include:

  • Achieving enormous levels of attention for controversial endzone celebrations following touchdown receptions early in his career.
  • Later, speaking out against coaches and his teammate Jeff Garcia, while a member of the San Francisco 49ers. He went as far as to tell Playboy magazine in an interview that Garcia was a homosexual.
  • Engaging in gameday, sideline arguments with Donovan McNabb after joining the Philadelphia Eagles. During his second season with the Eagles, Owens became such a distraction that the team deactivated him after only 7 games.
  • This year, after joining the Cowboys, Owens released a second autobiography in 22 months. He would claim, almost immediately, that he was misquoted by his own autobiography.
Viewed in perspective with his past actions, Owens's recent behavior shouldn't actually come as much of a surprise. In reality, the receiver's well documented issues with forming relationships and acting-out point to a couple potential mental health problems, borderline personality disorder most likely among them. Written about here by therapist Ivan Spielberg, BPD is a disorder characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image, and behavior. These instabilities are often harmful enough to effect work, family and long-term planning. As Owens is now playing for his 3rd team in four seasons and has alienated himself at every turn, one might assume that many of the DSM-IV criteria (of which a person must have 5 out of 9 to be diagnosed) would be met.

It is difficult to think about Owens's current situation without recalling the very public breakdown of former Raider's offensive lineman Barret Robbins. After disappearing during the run-up to Super Bowl XXXVII, Robbins was hospitalized for mental health concerns on the day of the game. His struggle with bipolar disorder and related substance abuse would force him out of the league, and as this USA Today story from 2005 tells, he would eventually land in a Miami hospital for wounds suffered during a run-in with police for which he received 5 years probation. Robbins's family had a long history of mental health problems, and as USA Today mentions, Robbins had been documented as using steroids and other drugs, something that can exascerbate mental health problems. Robbins was lucky in one regard, because he was an offensive lineman, albeit a very good one, he often flew much below the radar of national attention. Owens does not have that luxury, and his often brash or even confusing behavior (as when he performed calisthenics in his driveway for news cameras while suspended from the Eagles) has been well documented.

Many have pointed out that Owens's selfishness and self-centered behavior would seem to prevented him from committing suicide. Narcissism has nothing to do with suicidal behavior or ideation, and as Dr. William Hapworth points out in his earlier vlog post, suicide is related to unresolved anger and feelings of revenge. Owens is a troubled man. He has never had problems with drugs, but it was reported that "supplements" were involved in his most recent event, and in today's NFL, supplements can mean a lot of things. Owens will speak this afternoon, but chances are that nothing will truly be revealed. If we can take something from this situation, it is that mental health issues can take many shapes and forms. Owens has a history of erratic behavior, and ESPN's Ed Werder has even reported today that past teams have suggested he seek mental health assistance.

We must hope that Owens and the Cowboys do not try to brush this under the rug, and that this troubled star receives the medical care that is required at this point. The sensation that this incident has generated can provide a launching point for some very important discussions. Let's not avoid the opportunity.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
The Terrell Owens Suicide Saga: Another View
By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on Health-related

While The Smoking Gun sticks by its reporting that Terrell Owens tried to commit suicide, others remain unconvinced. Michael Silver, over at Sports Illustrated, believes Owens has a moodier, darker side that many people don’t know, but which he has seen.

Owens himself has denied the attempt, suggesting instead that he took natural supplements and too many painkillers together. This combination made him “groggy” and then “non-responsive,” to use Owens’ words.

What’s really going on here?

The answer may never be known (or we may have to wait for his autobiography another decade or two from now). It’s not unthinkable that Owens indeed tried to commit suicide, but as soon as his handlers caught wind of it, they found a way to “spin” the facts to fit the image of a strong American athlete.

The alternative, a man troubled by his own battles with depression and dark moods, wouldn’t really help an athlete’s future career ambitions or current efforts on a team. If a player can’t be 100% in the game, as they say, then the whole team suffers. And few football team owners want such trouble on their own teams.

I don’t know that this whole incident does anything other than to nicely illustrate that even the idea of suicide is scary and remains firmly stigmatized within American culture. This despite the fact that the majority of people have at least fleetingly considered suicide at one time in their lives.

Which reminds us here… If you’re considering suicide, please take a moment to check out our suicide resources first. Suicide is nearly always a permanent answer to a temporary problem.

No matter what happened with Owens, the public should grant him some space and privacy around this issue. Nobody should be forced to disclose their medical or health issues in the public spotlight, no matter who they are.
Replying is not possible. This forum is only available as an archive.