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Barnstormer shares his family's story in effort to destigmatize mental illness

Intelligencer Journal - 5/12/2019


The Lancaster Barnstormers are doing their part to promote May as National Mental Health Awareness Month, with players wearing green jerseys that read “Strike out the Stigma.” Outfielder Devon Torrence has come forward to share his family’s story of dealing with mental illness.

Even if professional athletes aren’t as famous as LeBron James or Bryce Harper, we still tend to think of them as not quite like us.

They seem to exist in a separate world, and so we don’t often consider that they may have to deal with the same problems “average” people do.

Devon Torrence assures us that’s not the case.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, Torrence is talking openly about his brother Devoe’s struggle with schizophrenia. And we commend him for it.

This can’t be easy for him, to reveal something so painful and private; it takes fortitude to come forward.

But as a member of the Barnstormers, Torrence, 30, understands that he has a platform and may be able to reach more people.

We applaud him for that.

“In any way that I can, I want to get the message out there and talk to people about it,” Torrence told LNP’s Lindsey Blest. “That’s where you draw your courage, where you draw your strength from — reading other people’s stories. That’s what helps get you through.”

Among the other athletes who’ve gone public to discuss mental health issues is NBA all-star DeMar DeRozan, who opened up last year about his battle with depression.

He told ESPN: “You get to a certain age where you feel like it’s all about helping others. It’s not about you just being a selfish person about the things you’re going through — other people are going through stuff as well. If you can share that and put that on the forefront, it can help somebody. Whether it’s one person, a hundred, a thousand. I just finally got to that point where it was time for me to say something.”

One in four individuals suffers with mental health challenges and 18% of adults have a mental illness, according to Mental Health America. More than 2 million children ages 12-17 cope with severe major depression, and 24 million people experience a mental health illness that goes untreated.

The Torrence brothers were accomplished athletes and highly recruited in football. Devon Torrence went on to play football at Ohio State. He also played minor league baseball in the Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals systems.

His sibling’s sports career went in the opposite direction. By the time Devoe was in his early 20s, his symptoms had worsened.

While Torrence was following his athletic dreams, he felt guilty for not being at home.

“I saw that my mother and my family really needed my support,” he told Blest.

So he was there when Devoe had his first doctor’s appointment and got an injection to counter the symptoms of his schizophrenia.

Torrence told LNP that his brother was a “wild kid” growing up, but the family brushed it off. Around 2011, however, his behavior intensified, with hallucinations and mood swings. Devoe, 28, was diagnosed with schizophrenia around 2014.

Schizophrenia affects about 1% of Americans, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Today, Devoe is doing better, thanks to medical care and family support, Blest reported. We wish him well.

In addition to the “Strike out the Stigma” jerseys, Lancaster Behavior Health Hospital is sponsoring the “War of the Roses” series between the Stormers and the York Revolution. Area mental health organizations also will be at Barnstormers home games this month.

Torrence had only just signed with the Barnstormers in April when the club hosted an event promoting May as Mental Health Awareness Month.

Recently, two representatives from Mental Health of America Lancaster County randomly asked Torrence if they could take a photo of him in his green jersey.

The organization’s director, Kim McDevitt, and marketing director, Charlotte Leckow, told Blest they were surprised when Torrence said the issue of mental health “really hit home” for him.

They said they’re grateful for their chance encounter with Torrence and want to support him while he’s playing for the Barnstormers.

The Torrence brothers’ mom, Wanda Waters, who’s a nurse, said:

“If you just believe and stay focused and do not give up on the person, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

A man of faith, Torrence told LNP he believes God puts people in situations where they can make a difference.

Torrence recognizes the moment as one in which he has a special opportunity to help others. We believe he has a real chance to do that. And we thank him, and the Barnstormers, for their efforts to destigmatize mental illness.