Iowa's Sean Welsh: Had duty to publicize depression fight

CHICAGO -- Iowa fifth-year senior Sean Welsh chose the weeks before his final season of starting on the Hawkeyes' offensive line to speak publicly about his battle with depression because "it would've been wrong not to" say something while he has a platform.

Welsh, a regular on conference honor rolls and a second-team All-American at guard last fall, wrote a detailed account of the mental health issues he has had during his college career for the Iowa athletic department's website last week.

He answered a litany of questions about depression and his decision to talk about it during Big Ten media days on Monday.

He said he twice left the team -- once during spring practice and once in August training camp -- to deal with depression. He was first diagnosed with the disease as a redshirt freshman, when he was becoming a regular starter on the Hawkeyes' offensive line.

"It was a ringer," he said of first confronting his problems. "Anyone who has dealt with mental health will tell you when you're in the thick of it there's not much else you're thinking about. You have to keep an open mind and be able to talk about your feelings. As much as it feels like pulling teeth, you have to do it because it helps you."

Welsh said he came forward because he wanted to encourage others to speak up and to be an advocate while he still has a captive audience. He said the reaction from teammates, coaches and social media has been overwhelmingly positive in the past several days.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz called Welsh on a daily basis to check in, and Welsh said the Iowa program has provided whatever time and resources he has needed throughout his time in Iowa City.

Some teammates knew about Welsh's weekly visits with a therapist, medication and occasional dark periods before this summer. As a member of the team's leadership group, Welsh had to address the full team in a speech this summer. He decided he wanted to incorporate his experiences in dealing with depression into his talk. The reaction from that experience is what prompted him to come forward in a more public way.

Welsh said he sees more athletes willing to talk about mental health issues than in the past. He said his therapist regularly shared articles with him that featured football players talking about similar problems. He said he believes it has become easier for him to talk about with each person he tells and that it also has become easier for any athlete to come forward and ask for help in a situation such as his.

"I just think it's kind of a generational thing," he said. "My generation is a lot more open to talking about things than others in the past. There is much less of a stigma that comes with it."

Welsh said it took him a week or two to get comfortable with the idea of sharing his story publicly and another couple of weeks to narrow and edit what he wanted to say. His first draft, he said, started at 2,800 words; it eventually was winnowed down to less than 1,000. He said he hopes the post will serve as the beginning of an opportunity to be an advocate for mental health issues throughout this season and beyond.

"The biggest life lesson I've learned is that if you need help, you have to ask for it," Welsh said. "You can't do everything on your own."