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Ex-NFLer Johnny Manziel Opens up About Bipolar Disorder

Former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel revealed today that he has “bipolar depression,” opening up about some of the steps he’s taking to deal with his mental illness and get back in the game.

In an interview with Good Morning America, the Heisman Trophy winner and one-time Cleveland Browns first round pick said he was diagnosed about a year ago while at a facility in California and he’s now on medication.

“I’m working to make sure that I don’t fall back into any type of depression because I know where that leads,” he told GMA’s T.J. Holmes.

The 25-year-old was cut from the Browns in 2016 and hasn’t played a game since 2015. Off the field, there have been reports of substance abuse, and he’s been caught on film partying, looking woozy, and guzzling from a bottle. He was also charged with domestic assault in 2016 (the charge was dismissed after he agreed to attend anger management class).

It wasn’t until his mom confronted him that his self-destructive actions began to hit home. “I saw the trickle down effects of what I was doing in my daily life that were meaningless and pointless and selfish,” Manziel said.

While Manziel had the courage to go public with his mental health status, for a lot of guys, facing down mental health issues is a challenge.

An estimated 4.4 percent of U.S. adults experience bipolar disorder at some time in their lives, with cases in men a tad higher than in women, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Dr. Michael Thase, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, who is not involved with Manziel’s treatment, says people with bipolar affective disorder can fall anywhere on a spectrum when it comes to symptoms of mania and depression.

More than 90 percent have periods of abnormal elation and periods of depression, Thase told Men’s Health.

“I thought I could see this coming two or three years ago. There was a brashness and an over-the-topness that just seemed like this guy was out of control,” Thase says of Manziel.

On the outside — to sports fans for example — the quarterback’s behaviors may have appeared careless or foolish. But Thase says a narcissistic or spoiled celebrity athlete wouldn’t have waxing and waning periods of bad behavior.

“The bad behavior wouldn’t go along with a change in speed of thought, changes in [physical] appearance, and a decreased need for sleep and other symptoms that define a manic episode. People, when they’re spoiled, don’t hear voices or stay up for four days straight,” he says, noting that he is not privy to any of Manziel’s records, but says that these are some of the hallmarks of bipolar disorder that help experts diagnose the condition.

Manziel told GMA that he was “self-medicating” with alcohol. It’s not uncommon for people with bipolar disorder to have alcohol and drug problems — they’re actually twice as likely as the general public to have substance abuse troubles, Thase says.

“That’s what I thought would make me happy and get out of that depression,” Manziel said. But his “liquid courage” would be gone the next day.

“You are left staring at the ceiling by yourself, and in that depression and back in that hole, that dark hole of sitting in a room by yourself, super depressed, thinking about all the mistakes you made in your life,” he said.

“Johnny Football,” a nickname Manziel earned as his football star ascended, said he finally reached out for support. “I started taking a look at my mental health a little bit and making it a priority in my life.”

He’s a step ahead of many guys. “Men have a much harder time getting help for mental illness compared to women. They tend to minimize things and not get help until conditions become more advanced,” says Thase. Even once they’ve sought help, they are more likely to drop out and be less adherent to therapy and medication — the treatment for bipolar disorder.

Things are looking up for Manziel. He’s engaged to model Bre Tiesi and he’s launched his own clothing line. In addition to staying sober and taking medicine, Manziel is training again and hoping he’ll attract the eye of pro team. As of this month, he’s a free agent.

“I know I want to get back on the football field and do what brought me so much joy in my life,” he said.

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  • Posted on May 1, 2020