Dylan Fischbach, a player within the USA Men’s National Team programme is passionate about promoting mental health awareness within sport. He sat down with Rollt.’s Dylan Cummings in an exclusive interview. He elaborated on why it’s important to talk about mental health awareness within sport and what sports organisations can do to improve athlete mental health support. He also talked about his own experiences with mental health.
In summary, why did you decide to speak to Rollt. about mental health awareness?
“I’ve been noticing, hearing and speaking with athletes here in the States at all levels, there are serious struggles with mental health in our game and I’m sure it’s elsewhere as well. I want to be open about my struggles and help as many people as I possibly can. If this can help or save one person then I’ve done my job.”
A couple of seasons ago you were meant to sign for the Bulls but that never ended up happening, why was that?
“Yes, I was supposed to sign with the Bulls and the reason I ended up staying back in the States was because of the mental health issues I was experiencing. During my last season at Whitewater, behind closed doors, I was basically in a battle with myself and my demons and it took a great toll on me. I was hospitalised at one point for days because I was becoming suicidal and I needed help. After that stay, I returned to the team (Whitewater) and tried being as strong as I could. But as so many others that go through this know, once again it ended up getting the better of me. We ended up finishing that season as the runners-up which sent me into another spiral. When I put so much into that season and having fought through what I had, coming up short in the championship game was crushing to me. I ended up worse than ever and stayed inside for days at a time, I started drinking heavily and basically tried to close myself off from everyone and everything. I fought through the summer to try and do everything I could to get myself over to Germany for the Bulls, but I just couldn’t do it at that time.”
What mental health symptoms do you have and how have you been dealing with them?
“I’ve been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and alcoholism. I didn’t know how to cope with things and when I didn’t know what to do, that’s where I turned. I’ve been dealing with them in a few ways lately, the first is leaning on the people that I am closest to and who love me the most. The second is not staying quiet anymore, if I’m struggling, I tell people because I know that’s my only way of getting through it. Lastly, I have a great group of doctors that have helped me battle this. It’s been amazing to have such caring professionals, especially our trainer with the USA Men’s National Team, Mary Vacala.”
Was it hard for you to reach out for help? If so, why?
“It was extremely hard for me to reach out for help and that’s why I got to the point I did. I was always great at ‘putting on a face’ or not showing people how I really felt and just portraying that I was doing okay.”
When you reached out for help, how did it benefit you?
“I think what benefited me most was that I was finally talking about it and I wasn’t afraid to talk about it anymore. I had so much bottled up for so long that needed to get it out so it was nice when I could just talk to people and take some time for myself. The other aspect that helped me a lot was some of the other people I met whilst I was in hospital. Hearing some of their stories and seeing what they had gone through as well made me not want to go down a lot of those paths that some others had, and it really helped me turn my life around.”
Did you receive mental health support from any sports organisations?
“I did receive some help from a few sports organisations, first was from Whitewater, where I was coached by the greatest ever Jeremy Lade. He’s been by my side through this whole battle and I’ll never be able to thank him enough. The second organisation was the USA Men’s National Team. They were able to notice the signs at a training camp and our trainer, Mary stepped in almost immediately to make sure I was taken care of the entire time I was there. Lastly, I need to thank the Bulls organisation as well. Michael Engel was in talks with me during that stretch and was nothing but supportive of me and continued to stress how much he wanted the best for me. I can’t thank him enough for that and we still talk to this day.”
In your opinion, why is it important for mental health awareness to be talked about more openly within sport?
“I think it’s really important for mental health to be talked about within sport because there are so many athletes that go through it but don’t want to speak out about it in fear of being seen as weak or vulnerable. We must fight to change that stigma.”
In your opinion, how can sports organisations improve athlete mental health support going forward?
“I think having a trained mental health professional assigned to each team would help a lot. Having meetings set up for each player just to be evaluated for mental health or maybe they are just there in case an athlete may need their help. That’s where I would look to start.”
How has your quality of life improved since receiving mental health support?
“My quality of life has improved greatly, more so this year. I’m now six months sober, I have been taken off my anti-depressants (talk to a doctor before doing that), and I have been trying to live day-to-day now. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my bad days, everyone does. If that happens, I just have to remember what’s good in life, get my mind back to the simple things and then convince myself that everything will be okay.”
Thanks for your time man!
Rollt. would like to thank Dylan Fischbach for the interview.
Dylan Fischbach Profile
Date of Birth: 27/03/1995 (aged 25)
Hometown: Vermillion, South Dakota
Started playing: 2005
Disability: Single-leg amputee
Current Club: Milwaukee Wheelchair Bucks, USA (2019-Present)
_Nebraska Red Dawgs, USA (2005-14)
_University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks, USA (2014-19)
_Being a Warhawk and being coached by Jeremy Lade.
Interview: Dylan Cummings | Photo: Private