Newman University basketball coach tells his story of depression and getting help
for The Fence Post
When the emotional darkness of a full onslaught severe depression clung like a blanket to Kansas’ Newman University basketball coach Mark Potter, he knew it was time to get help. Earlier, he had called his wife Nanette crying. As Nanette peered into his eyes that very night, and asked the all-important question that he now admits probably saved his emotional life. “Do you need me to take you to that event tonight Mark?” Potter paused and admitted, “Yes, I need help.” Immediately, his wife called several phone numbers listed on the back of his insurance card and finally secured an appointment with a psychiatrist.
However, when the appointment time arrived two days later, Potter slid back in his chair announcing, “I’m not going and you can’t make me,” but Nanette boldly advised, that either they’d ask one of Potter’s burly, tall athletes to put Potter in the car, or he could get in by himself. “Ok, I’ll get in the car,” Potter said.
After the appointment and starting on a prescription for medication, Potter hunkered down at home for a couple of weeks before finally opening his computer, and then talking with his team. He then eventually shared his message of hope and help for depression by forming his own company D2UP.org two years ago.
Coach Potter revealed his deeply personal story to a packed crowd Monday night Nov. 18 when a largely farming community gathered at the historic Blair Theater in Belleville, Kan.
Even with coaching over 800 games in 30 years at the college and high school levels, re-starting Newman University’s men’s basketball team which transitioned to the NCAA Division II level, recently inducted into the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame, being a prior college basketball and baseball player himself Coach Potter from Sedan, Kan., acknowledged his biggest emotional victory is now his personal, raw story of climbing out of “Depression/The Silent Epidemic” 13 years ago when he knew something wasn’t right. The presentation was sponsored by a Culture of Health Grant and Kansas State University Research and Extension River Valley District.
“I’m on a mission now,” Potter said. “I want to talk to every farmer, every school. The suicide rate for farmers in northwest Kansas has risen dramatically. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in ages 10 to 45 and it’s an epidemic. Why do we not go get help when it’s the one thing we need?” Potter questioned the packed crowd gathered inside the theater. “Not everyone needs to take medication for depression, but it’s okay to swallow some pride if you’re a little bit broken.”
“I know how small communities are, because I grew up in one. We all have our pride, and we have Facebook and social media. There’s a lot of positive about social media, but do you know what we put on social media? It’s those cute pictures and we try to paint this picture of a perfect family,” Potter told the audience. “And, I grew up in a tough family and we didn’t talk about ‘those’ issues. After going through severe depression, now I talk about it.”
Awareness of a caregiver’s role in being supportive, was heightened when Potter’s wife took her turn, on the stage. “I taught school for 32 years and had a lot of training on de-escalation, but I didn’t even recognize when my husband had mental illness,” Nanette said. “Then, I went to every therapy appointment with him.”
If someone is falling through the cracks with their medication, Potter noted they can get a saliva test where they’ll get a swab of their cheek, which is sent in to a lab, and that can help in narrowing down the right medication.
Sports stories hit especially close to home. “And, I’m speaking for the males here now. If you’re struggling; I tell athletes when I travel in Los Angeles, New York City, anywhere, I tell them forget toughness just get help. Then we can deal with the toughness.”
“I just knew I was going to do this,” Coach Potter wiped tears while recounting several tragic stories of people who, sadly never decided to get help, like the grandson of retired legendary Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder. Snyder’s grandson died by suicide a year and a half ago.
Digging deep into his own story, Potter shared, when his severe depression hit, interestingly, his full life had so many positive elements at the time. “My team was doing great, so was my marriage and children, but then everyday issues with the players seemed like 100 times magnified and my thought process was like, ‘what’s goin’ on here?’ That’s a chemical imbalance in the brain,” Potter said. “I was beginning to have dark thoughts. I remember driving and tears were rolling down my face. I thought, I sure wasn’t going to tell my students or even my wife, but since then as you know, I’ve learned you must go the doctor and get it fixed,” he said, adding, “A chemical imbalance can be addressed through medication, counseling or a combination.”
“Many of you here probably were raised that we don’t talk about it. I think our generation, and generations before us have failed, because people have been suffering in silence with depression,” Potter said.
When his depression struck, Potter said he didn’t know what he was going through. “I thought I was the only one. Then, I learned other coaches suffered from depression, too.”
Potter learned that others suffering from severe depression were also relieved to be able to talk about it, but he said it was staggering what he learned from his own parents.
“My mom said, ‘What can I do to help you?’ And it turns out she too suffered from depression,” Potter said. When his parents saw he was struggling, his dad also admitted he was on medication for depression for nearly 30 years.
It’s the silence that’s attached to what’s now an epidemic. “How many of you have been silent?” Potter queried. “Well, I’m the most guilty person here I used to be silent. We pretended to be the perfect family. We’re still trying to be the perfect family.”
As he continued pouring his heart out, Potter said, “I’m intent on sharing so you can get the most out of your talent in whatever you do. There can be more peace in your life I can promise you that. I’m not depressed now because of medication.”
“The only wrong thing you can do is to do nothing at all,” Nanette said. “Please share with your own family, or a trusted friend.”
“When I think about all the things Mark would’ve missed if I hadn’t done something,” she said “I’m just going to hope and really pray that you here think about this differently now. We are the face of mental illness and it is treatable.”
“If you knew that you could save a life by talking about it knowing that it’s not always comfortable to open up, you will save and change lives,” Potter said. “I’m thankful to this day, that my wife didn’t take no for an answer.” ❖
— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.