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Eric Hipple, former Detroit Lions quarterback, addressed a crowd of Hillsdale students last Thursday on suicide prevention and the importance of mental health.

Hipple, who quarterbacked the Lions for 10 seasons, has experienced the struggles of mental illness first hand, including having a son who took his own life at age 15. Throughout his speech, Hipple stressed the importance of having a positive mindset in everyday life.

“Mental health isn’t the absence of a brain illness,” Hipple said.  “It’s about having a sense of well being on who we are.”

The entire Hillsdale football team attended the event. The football program has been involved in suicide prevention and mental health awareness since 2005, when freshman linebacker Adam Emery committed suicide. Since then, the team has donated the proceeds of its annual youth camp to The Jason Foundation, an organization that increases awareness of youth suicide and educates people on the signs of those who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Head football coach Keith Otterbein said he continues to hold the topic close to his heart. Next to the football field is a tree planted in memory of Emery.

“Every home game I walk by that tree, and for the last 12 years, I think about that family,” Otterbein said. “I say a prayer every time I pass that tree for his family, and for awareness.”

Otterbein said more often than we think, somebody we know is struggling with their mental health. He pointed out that one doesn’t need to go very many layers in their relationships to find someone who has committed suicide.

“A heightened awareness, more than anything, is what we realize is important.” Otterbein said. “Before Adam, we thought, ‘it’ll never happen to us.’ Then it does.”

Director of the Health and Wellness Center Brock Lutz helped bring Hipple to campus. The Health and Wellness Center provides individual and group counseling for all mental health issues, which Lutz encourages students to take advantage of.

Lutz said he appreciated Hipple’s emphasis on relationships, mental perspective, physical health, good choices, and spiritual perspective.

“I believe that approach is the most helpful in keeping people healthy and assisting them in overcoming more significant mental health challenges,” Lutz said.

Hipple was introduced Thursday by senior Taylor Hannel, president of the Lighthouse Organization, the mental health club on campus. The Lighthouse Organization exists to help bring down the stigma surrounding mental illness on campus. Hannel said the organization’s main goals are to let people know that it’s OK to get help, and to help find the resources in order to do so.

Hannel suggested students take advantage of the available assets around them.

“My biggest piece of advice is to utilize the resources on this campus. I think this campus sometimes has an atmosphere of ‘everything is fine,’ but it’s important to know that it’s OK if it’s not OK,” Hannel said. “We have multiple resources here on campus —  your RA’s, your professors, the deans —  just to know that help is available and there’s nothing wrong with reaching out.”

By spreading awareness on the topic of mental health, Hipple hopes to ensure that the people who hear his message will become more comfortable recognizing problems and take steps to help those who need it.

“It’s not the problem that’s the problem, it’s the inability to solve it,” Hipple said.