Seattle Mariners pitcher Rob Whalen spoke at length about his struggle with depression—which caused him to temporarily step away from baseball last season—in an interview published today on MLB.com:
“We need to change the stigma that you’re fragile if you talk about it, because that’s not the case. We need to continue the conversation... It’s almost like when you’re an alcoholic, you have to admit you’re an alcoholic. For me it was, ‘OK, let me say these words out loud of how I’ve been feeling inside for so long,’ feeling if I did say it, people would think I’m crazy. I was 23, I’d gotten to the big leagues and had a great life. There wasn’t a lot to be upset about, but I was just miserable. So it was hard to understand it myself, let alone explain it to others.”
Whalen said that he’s dealt with depression and anxiety since he was a teenager, but he didn’t discuss his mental health with anyone or begin to understand it until a discussion with a team psychologist a few years ago when he was in the Mets’ minor-league system. His mental state got worse as he was traded to the Braves—with whom he made his major-league debut in 2016—and then the Mariners, until he finally felt like he had to step away from the game for a stretch last July.
“The start didn’t go well, I felt like I couldn’t breathe,” he told MLB.com about his final outing in Triple-A before he decided he had no choice but to take a break, with the club putting him on the restricted list. “I just packed my stuff and booked my flight. I was breaking down in my hotel room. I couldn’t believe what I just did, but I had to do it.”
Whalen said he’s been moved to speak out by the suicide of Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski last month, wanting to help others in similar situations know that they’re not alone.
“I didn’t know the kid, but I felt so bad for his family and all that because I felt like that for a time,” Whalen said. “I felt alone. I just isolated myself. I was in that bubble for a while, and it sucks to see that. I was fortunate enough to escape it. I got help before it came that far down the road.”