“Because of the stigma attached to depression, I wasn’t going to tell anyone, including my wife — that is until I had no choice but to get help. We’re all broken people.”

With that resounding reveal to an audience in Belleville, Kansas, former Newman University basketball coach Mark Potter shared his personal struggle against a sudden onslaught of what he called “dark thinking” It all finally led to an all-out crying episode while driving, and an impassioned plea to his wife for help with his severe depression.

“The only wrong thing you can do is nothing at all,” said his wife, Nanette, who ardently supports her husband and delivers inspirational messages alongside him.

Potter acknowledges that if not for his wife insisting he attend a therapy appointment during his darkest time, he doesn’t know if he would have survived to this day.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “My generation and others before me have failed, so I challenge them to talk to their families because depression can be hereditary.”

It was only when Potter hit “rock bottom” when he learned that his mother also quietly suffered from depression and his father had been on medication for depression for about 30 years.

“There’s an epidemic in our society with generation after generation of people suffering in silence with depression,” he said.

It doesn’t matter how “tough” a person is, Potter added.

“When you think of a coach, you don’t think of someone who’s depressed or broken. But I’m broken, my family is broken,” he said. “What I mean is, severe depression doesn’t discriminate.”

Known as Coach Potter, he coached more than 800 games in 30 years at the college and high school levels. Potter revived Newman University’s men’s basketball program and transitioned the team to NCAA Division II level. He was recently inducted into the Wichita Sports Hall of Fame. Potter also played college basketball and baseball at Cowley County Community College and Kansas Newman College.

His battle with severe depression hit 13 years ago. It was his climb out of the darkness that spurred him to found his company D2UP.org, bringing a message of hope and help to those affected by depression, including farm communities in the Midwest.

“The suicide rate for farmers in northwest Kansas has risen dramatically,” Potter said.

His Nov. 18 presentation in Belleville, “Depression — The Silent Epidemic,” was sponsored by a Culture of Health grant and Kansas State University Research and Extension River Valley District.

Pausing to wipe tears, Potter said he knew he had to share his message. He relayed several tragic stories of people who never made the decision to get help, like the grandson of retired Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder. Snyder’s grandson died by suicide a year and a half ago.

“We all have struggles, and statistics show us that when we start talking about them, we can get help,” he said. “I never, ever dreamed that I would’ve been one to have suicidal thoughts. It’s a chemical imbalance that can be addressed through medication, counseling or a combination.”

Social media has major influence today, but Potter warned not to get wrapped up in it. He reminded the crowd that people tend to post cute pictures of their children and happy times, but they don’t show the bad parts of their life. He advises others to be careful making comparisons to others’ lives. It’s impossible to know what they’re dealing with, as he experienced firsthand.

“Do I have struggles? Yes. Medication helps, but it sure feels good to feel good,” he said.

Amy Hadachek can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

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