- Retired MLB player and suicide survivor Drew Robinson is speaking out about suicide prevention.
- Robinson co-founded the Better Universe Foundation to end the stigma around asking for help and to provide access to mental health services.
- Experts say there are ways to help prevent fatal suicidal behavior.
Retired MLB player Drew Robinson loved baseball from the time he began playing at six years old. His passion and talent for the sport earned him a roster spot on MLB minor and major league teams for over a decade.
While the pressures and ups and downs of performing baseball at the highest level were mentally challenging, during Robinson’s darkest day, the thought of playing baseball again, helped him survive.
On April 16, 2020, Robinson lived through a suicide attempt. After the incident, he looked at himself in the mirror and wondered if his injury would allow him to ever play baseball again. The fact that he was thinking of the future, urged him to call 911 rather than engage in a second attempt.
“Two-and-a-half months before [that day] is when I really became suicidal, and once I realized that I was actually thinking about ending my life, then that was pretty much the only thing on my mind,” Robinson told Healthline.
However, he said he didn’t want to end his life; he wanted the extreme emotional and psychological discomfort he was experiencing to stop.
“I couldn’t take the misery that I was feeling inside any longer; I just wanted it to end…I didn’t want my life to end, but I had no idea how to…ask for help,” said Robinson.
He doesn’t blame baseball itself for his mental state at the time but rather an engrained habitual thought cycle that he had his whole life.
“[For] me it happened to be baseball that brought out these detrimental views on things…I was just going out there trying my best, and when I didn’t [do my best] I thought the world was ending,” he said. “[Unfortunately,] I found out that this is a very universal thing…Whatever career I was doing I think it would’ve eventually brought out these uncomfortable or [concerning] patterns I had in my life.”
Robinson grew up in a split household and said he experienced uncomfortable and confusing emotions that he never learned how to process in a structured way.
“[As a kid], I did things from a place of acting out from trying to sweep things under the rug and always trying to find a way out, so for me it came out as anger, irritability, emotional instability, and a lot of ups and downs,” he said.
Doreen Marshall, PhD, spokesperson for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said teaching children at young ages that mental health is as important as physical health and that it’s important to seek help for mental health challenges, can help them manage difficulties throughout their lifespan.
“It’s also important that, as adults, we model prioritizing and taking care of our mental health,” she told Healthline.
However, she added that while mental health and suicide are often conflated, “it’s important to note that while the presence of a mental health condition may contribute to increased suicide risk, the majority of people who live with mental health conditions will not die by suicide.”
Fighting his way back to the field and himself
Robinson underwent four head surgeries to treat his injuries and reconstruct his face. A year after recovering, he found his way back to spring training with the San Francisco Giants and later played a regular season of games with the Sacramento River Cats.
“The first games were in my hometown playing against Vegas’s local team, which was a mile and a half away from my house where [the incident occurred]. Having my family, doctors…anyone that was a part of my journey up to that point and part of my recovery afterwards — it was the most powerful experience,” he said.
While it took a bit of trial-and-error with different mental health treatment options, Robinson benefits most from weekly sessions with a mental health professional and life coach, as well as self-initiated practices that he calls the trifecta: meditation, journaling, and exercise.
“I’m proud to commit time to my self-care and myself…and it’s definitely obvious that times when I’m doing that most consistently is when I’m at my best,” he said.
However, he said recovery is not an overnight fix, but rather a continuous process.
“[I’ve] definitely fallen back into some depressive episodes since my attempt, and I’ve learned that the main thing is everything is temporary, so I’m really proud of the progress I’ve made, but I know that there’s always going to be some things to deal with and life is never going to be completely easy,” he said. “I want others to know that…asking for help is the strongest thing anyone can do for themselves.”
Encouraging a better you for everyone
Nearly 700,000 people die by suicide each year, according to the World Health Organization. To help decrease this staggering stat, Robinson co-founded the Better Universe Foundation to end the stigma around asking for help and to provide access to mental health services.
“I physically or emotionally didn’t have the strength to tell someone…‘I don’t know what to do, please help me,’” said Robinson.
He hopes his foundation will provide a welcoming and empathetic environment that encourages people to get help before a crisis occurs.
“[Once] it became an overwhelming experience for me, I couldn’t think straight, I didn’t know what to do. [I had] only irrational, clouded judgment, and if I would have been doing something before, maybe I could have leaned on that. So hopefully, this message and our foundation will help people feel more comfortable addressing their mental health in a more sustainable, preventive way,” said Robinson.
The foundation provides care coordinators to help connect people with mental health providers.
“There are many methods for improving the way we feel, and once you actually go seek that care…we might realize that there are things that are within our control that can really change our brain health and brain function,” Dr. Sam Zand, co-founder, and chief medical officer of Better Universe Foundation, told Healthline.
He added that there are cutting-edge solutions for mental health beyond traditional medications and talk therapy. “Our community is evolving in the way that we’re treating mental health. There is optimism in new treatment modalities that people may not have heard of trying before,” he said.
Marshall agreed. She pointed out that a harmful myth around suicide is that some individuals are “bent” on suicide, and therefore not much can be done to change course once they become suicidal.
“Today, scientific research shows that while suicide is complex, it is a health-related outcome and can be preventable,” she said.
Robinson wished he knew this at the time he was feeling most challenged, but he said he has also witnessed the power of prevention through the work of his foundation.
“[Hearing] people tell me, ‘I never told anyone this in my life,’ and seeing their mental health journey start right in front of me is the most fulfilling thing ever,” he said.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, there’s help available. Call 911 for emergency services or reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Line at 988 for support with mental health crises.
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