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Photo courtesy of The Defensive Line. NFL player Solomon Thomas (left) founded the anti-suicide organization following the death of his sister (right).

The Defensive Line event aims to educate all Horned Frogs following a special session with student-athletes

Unfortunately, students struggling with mental health concerns don’t naturally contact mental health professionals. At most counseling centers, including TCU, about 80 to 85% of clients seek counseling because someone asked them to which is why the campus community should be educated on suicide prevention.  

On Wednesday, July 12, TCU will host a prevention workshop open to all faculty, staff and students. The presentation will be given by The Defensive Line, a nonprofit created by Solomon Thomas, the third pick in the 2017 NFL draft, who uses this organization as a platform dedicated to suicide prevention and mental health concerns. Thomas lost his sister to suicide, and he and his parents openly share their story and discuss practical ways to help a person who has thoughts of suicide.

The event will feature Martha and Chris Thomas sharing their personal story and teaching ways to prevent suicide. Attendees can expect to become more “suicide alert,” knowing how to bring up a conversation about suicide when there’s concern, learning appropriate responses and developing a better understanding of how campus resources work.

​“Talking about suicide is difficult. Right now, there are thousands of incoming students attending orientation events, and no one wants to reflect that a number of these students are struggling with mental health concerns and/or might be considering suicide,” wrote Eric Wood, director of TCU’s Counseling & Mental Health Center, in a recent open letter to campus.

Addressing the Needs of the Student-Athlete
On the morning of July 12, Solomon Thomas will host a closed event with the TCU football team and athletic community to address the specific needs of the student-athlete.

“Student-athletes experience additional demands that many students don’t, from training their bodies and minds almost year-round to pursue peak performance to at times having to cope for weeks to months with time out of their sport due to their sport injury, along with dealing with the reactions of fans, coaches and teammates to their sport performance,” said Matt Johnson, a licensed professional counselor and mental performance consultant who works within TCU Athletics.

And the limelight can be a tough place to be, Johnson noted, because, just as the players’ highlights will be broadcast on social media, so will their lowlights. To add to the pressure, in some sports, student-athletes can lose their scholarship monies if they don’t perform well.

“Student-athletes, similar to all college students, may have experienced anxiety, depression, traumas, and/or suicidal ideation before they got to TCU or while they are here,” Johnson said. “But for student-athletes, their mental health concerns can sometimes go unnoticed or not be addressed due to their success and popularity as well as inaccurate beliefs that they shouldn't have mental health struggles.” 

There was no question that the TCU football team would take time off from its practice for this event, according to Ray Walls, associate athletics director for student-athlete experience.

“Given the rigorous nature of football, dealing with injuries, the pressure to be great on the field, the exposure to public scrutiny on a regular basis, and the struggle to find one’s identity and place on campus, our student-athletes can quickly become overwhelmed,” Walls said. “In the past, seeking help, especially in a sport such as football, was looked at as a sign of weakness. Thankfully we are moving forward and continue moving the needle.”

Walls is passionate about providing these students the support they need.

“Even though our TCU student-athletes are highly skilled in their sports, they are still human and experience the same stressors as other college students,” he said.

Learn more about The Defensive Line and the open campus event July 12.

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