This is the cover story of the December 3 issue of Gameday Magazine which can be found at the Lincoln Financial Field Pro Shop as well as local ACME supermarkets.
Brandon Brooks has never been one to run away from his struggles.
After coming forward about his anxiety in 2016, the Eagles’ Pro Bowl guard stood firm, answered all questions, and remained open with fans and teammates regarding his mental health.
In the 2018 season, that hasn’t changed. And when the Eagles face Washington on December 3, Brooks will champion a cause close to his heart when he takes the field.
Brooks will wear shoes representing the DMAX Foundation as part of the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats initiative that allows players to spotlight a charity of their choice. Brooks chose a local foundation committed to helping those who struggle with mental health issues.
“It will be tremendous,” Brooks says. “Not just for me but for the organization as well. They’re doing great things and anything I can do to support anything in that area, I’ll do it.”
The DMAX Foundation is a developing non-profit organization from Radnor, Pennsylvania that works with families and young individuals to provide aid to those dealing with mental illness while also working to end the stigma surrounding them. It has a particular reach on college campuses where DMAX clubs allow students to talk openly about their struggles.
Brooks selected the foundation because of his own battle with anxiety. After being diagnosed at age 27, Brooks understood that mental health is something that is not treated as normally as a physical injury despite being a challenge that plenty of people face. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 40 million American adults, roughly 18.1 percent of the population, are affected by anxiety disorders. Only 36.9 percent of those people receive treatment.
He wants to change that and help young people recognize and understand mental illness.
“It’s extremely important that we can help sooner and maybe not have to go through some of the darker places that mental illness can possibly take you,” Brooks says. “Really just bring awareness to it, normalize it, and let people know that it’s OK to get help.”
Brooks had dealt with the effects of his anxiety for years without understanding the root cause. He struggled with and often hid what he was told were stomach ulcers. The intense pain and sickness created by his anxiety were often overwhelming and even caused him to miss some practices and games.
His diagnosis came after he missed two games in the 2016 season.
“When it comes to any type of mental illness, it’s not as publicized as a regular injury,” Brooks says. “So, going through it all, it was just like, I’ve never known anyone with this. I had never known that I even had this. I would never have thought to think about mental health and mental illness.
“It’s hard to explain unless you know someone going through it or you’re going through it yourself.”
Brooks took action by beginning to meet regularly with a therapist. He says that despite the negative connotation that can unfortunately come with it, therapy was the best thing that ever happened to him.
“The biggest thing is being able to talk to somebody without judgment and really just get all the stuff off your chest that you didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone else about and you just internalized because that stuff really eats you up,” Brooks says. “By talking to somebody, they can get to the root of your problems.
“I think a lot of people think, you go talk to the shrink, you think you know what your problem is, but come to find out that it actually might be something else and something deeper than that.”
An unfortunate element of Brooks’ openness is the effects of a stigma and confusion that still exists in society toward mental health and those who seek help when facing difficulties. Not everyone is completely understanding of the tangible effects of mental illness and that’s something Brooks experiences as a professional athlete.
Brooks, however, saw support right away from his teammates, coaches, and the Eagles organization.
“You’re not going to have everybody on your side all the time and I don’t want people to think that because you’re going through something, you’ll come out about it and everyone will be like, ‘Oh yeah, man,’ and patting you on the back,” Brooks says. “You’re going to have some people that are like, ‘Yeah? So, what?’
“My thing is, those dudes have my back man, ride or die man, knowing that in the darkest of situations, like two years ago with my anxiety, going through that, at the end of the day, (offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland) was in my corner through thick and thin, even to the point where he was like, ‘I’m not even concerned with this football stuff right now. I’m concerned for you as a person.’ You don’t get that everyday.”
Brooks leads by example as a respected professional athlete who performs at a high level while simultaneously working to overcome his mental illness and speaking openly about what he battles. He also supports organizations that aim to help others facing similar fights while advocating to end the stigma against mental illness.
While wearing his DMAX Foundation cleats proudly on Monday Night Football, Brooks will have an opportunity to do both on a national stage.
“It’s gotten to the forefront even more,” Brooks says. “I’d say the stigma is less but it’s not where it needs to be.”
As the 2018 season continues, Brooks continues to be a fundamental member of a dynamic offensive line. He has not missed a game since the start of 2017 and says he is doing well. The anxiety is still there – it doesn’t go away – but he has learned ways to handle it.
Brooks first answered questions at his locker about his anxiety in December 2016. Less than 14 months later, he was a Super Bowl Champion and Pro Bowl selection after starting every single game of the season at right guard.
What a difference a year makes.
“It’s a tough road,” Brooks says. “When you go through something like that, especially in the spotlight, you already live in a fishbowl, and you become vulnerable to society about what you’re going through. Some people let it eat them alive and some people rise through it. I’ve always been a fighter, especially in the toughest of moments. I feel like that’s when I fight the best.”