*Trigger warning - suicide *
If you look up the word ‘Determined’ in the dictionary, the name Dave Scarpello should be there. Dave is one of our 2023 ambassadors and a long-time friend and member of the Still I Run community. He became disabled as the result an armed robbery years ago. Three back surgeries later, and he still lives in pain. Shortly after that incident, he was hit by a drunk driver and was told by medical professionals he would never be able to walk again.
This gloomy prognosis did not stop Dave in the slightest. He’s done everything from a 5K to a full marathon (which he did with a broken toe!) If you knew Dave, you’d know that movement is just a part of his life. “When I was young, everything was all about sports. I played football and baseball growing up. In high school, I was a captain of the baseball and soccer team. I ran track, played J-V basketball. Then I ended up getting a bunch of soccer scholarships and went to Temple University on a soccer scholarship, but I tore my knee before freshman year, so I was done. I never actually played. But still it was cool that I got to the point that I got a Division 1 soccer scholarship, so that counts for something,” remarked Dave.
Not all Wounds are Visible:
Dave has had eleven concussions in his life. “I have struggled with mental health issues such as panic attacks, depression and PTSD. I also have been dealing with chronic pain due to the multiple surgeries I went through,” stated Dave. As a result of the concussions, Dave has experienced effects on his mood and emotions. This can vary from person to person. Some individuals can have more aggression and rage episodes. Other people can struggle with memory and problem- solving. “I have some concerns I might CTE due to my past concussions,” mentioned Dave.
According to the Boston University CTE Center, “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. CTE is caused in part by repeated traumatic brain injuries, which include concussions and non-concussive impacts. In CTE, experts believe a structural protein in neurons called tau misfolds and malfunctions, causes adjacent proteins to misfold, and sets off a chain reaction where this malfunctioning tau slowly spreads throughout the brain, killing brain cells. Right now, CTE can only be definitively diagnosed by autopsy after death. CTE has been diagnosed in people who died as young as 17, but symptoms do not generally begin appearing until years after the onset of head impacts.”
CTE is a topic that’s very prominent in the world of sports, with many professional players, namely football players, that suffer from it. In recent years, as CTE has garnered more attention, the media has shared countless stories of athletes who have died by suicide, that were then later diagnosed with CTE after their death.
While there is no single cause that results in suicide and having CTE does not make a person take their own life, symptoms of CTE can cause changes in mood such as sadness, helplessness, anger and ability to control impulses. Additionally, there is a higher rick of suicide/ suicidal behavior for a person struggling with CTE. NFL Chargers icon, Junior Seau died by suicide in 2012. He was 43 years old at the time of his death. After his death, the National Institutes of Health concluded that Seau had CTE.
The Mental Health Stigma as a Male:
So how does this all tie back to Dave? Dave wants to help break the stigma for himself and other men, specifically ones that have had multiple brain injuries. “I want to be an advocate and speak up that it's ok for men to talk about mental health and illness,” remarks Dave. This stigma can prevent men, especially athletes with repeated head traumas from addressing or seeking help. Also, it can make men feel alone and ashamed of their mental health issues. Society has pushed men to be ‘strong and emotionless’ and ‘tough it out’, which is extremely detrimental to their recovery and healing.
Celebrities and star athletes within the past few years have been creating awareness about mental health issues and Dave wants to do his part to lend his voice to the conversation. “Men have difficulty showing vulnerability. If I can be that person that demonstrates talking about mental illness is ‘cool’ I did my part in this lifetime. No one should ever feel alone,” mentions Dave.
Regardless of an underlying cause, suicide is preventable. Refer to: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.