By Fort Leonard Wood Public AffairsFebruary 23, 2017
"There's no shame in asking for help if you're struggling, the shame is if you don't get the help."
Retired National Football League running back and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker shared this message with several hundred service members and the Fort Leonard Wood community during a visit to Missouri's largest military installation Tuesday and Wednesday.
Breaking free from his own shame related to mental illness, Walker recounted his personal story from his early days as a child, when he had speech issues and was bullied, to becoming one of the greatest college football players of all time to seeking professional help for dissociative identity disorder.
"I've played 15 years of pro ball, I've been on two Olympic teams …, I've done everything you can do as an athlete," Walker said. "People don't understand that the best thing that ever happened to Herschel Walker was going to a behavioral health hospital."
Walker explained how his experience at the behavioral health hospital alleviated his shame in asking for help. He now gives this advice to those who are struggling and ask him for help.
"Unless you can come out front and tell people and talk to someone, you can't just keep it in the closet and think you're going to get better," he said. "If you come out, I can promise you, you're going to feel better, you're going to get better, but if you're going to hide it, that's too much weight you have to carry."
When he stopped lying to himself and others about his problems, Walker said he started feeling better.
"That's when I started seeing the light, when I accepted that I had a problem and that I had to get it taken care of," he said.
Listening to Walker's story, one Marine in the audience said he could relate.
"Being in the Marine Corps and on three combat tours, I kind of know what he is feeling," said Marine Staff Sgt. Wade Mayhew, Marine Corps Detachment, Motor Transport Instruction Company.
Mayhew said Walker's "words of wisdom" put him at ease.
"We definitely have the downs and the lows," said Mayhew, who grew up in Albany, Georgia, watching Walker play football.
"What he taught me today put me in a different perspective as far as coping with it, and knowing that it is not unmanly to talk and get help," he added.
Walker said the reason he shares his story with others is to provide emotional and motivational support, especially to service members, veterans and military Families.
"I have had the opportunity to travel to 140 military installations and share my story," he said. "The reason the United States of America is the best country in the world is because we have the best military in the world. Whatever I can do to help you guys, this is what I owe to you."
In addition to his talks, Walker also had the opportunity to meet with and observe Soldiers in training during his two-day visit, which marked Walker's second visit to Fort Leonard Wood; his first was in 2013.
(Editor's note: Tiffany Wood and Shatara Seymour contributed to this story. Both Wood and Seymour work in the Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office.)