Eagles’ Lane Johnson speaks out about mental health

Lane Johnson leans forward against a desk on the second floor of a modest office building in Cherry Hill and looks at the group of 25 people seated directly in front of him.

He doesn’t blink much. His large hands were clamped near the edge of the table’s surface. His voice rises to ensure that everyone in the room can hear his message. Those in attendance include a mix of survivors, patients and staff from the Success TMS Depression Treatment Clinic.

For Johnson, spending part of his mini-bye week Saturday afternoon sharing his story was essential.

“You have to attack the monster before it keeps building and building,” the Eagles’ right tackle said.

The monsters Johnson refers to are depression and anxiety.

Over the past year, Johnson has come out about his personal battles with mental health. Last season, the three-time Pro Bowler took a leave of absence from the team while he treated his issues. He suffered various symptoms, including internal pain and vomiting, after temporarily going off his prescribed medication. Upon his return to the Eagles, Johnson shed light on his struggles, which began many years ago when he played quarterback at Kilgore College in East Texas.

“My mental health journey began at the end of my senior year of high school,” says Johnson. “The monster just advanced.”

For about two hours, this space is just for Johnson and the invited crowd. It’s a space where they don’t have to think about football or money or pressure or failure.

“It’s not a pity party — it’s just you and me,” Johnson says. “I like this intimate setting.”

Johnson’s visit at Success TMS consisted of a tour of the 2,000-square-foot facility, a freestyle message detailing his mental health journey, and a Q&A. Throughout Johnson’s speech, he emphasized the pressure to live up to expectations, and the related stress that comes with not conforming to what society deems acceptable in a performance-based industry. It’s a tug-of-war that he has learned to balance during his 10-year career.

After being selected with the fourth pick in the 2013 draft out of Oklahoma, Johnson made quick observations of his new home.

“Back in Texas, football is life, death and religion down there — I found out it’s very similar here,” Johnson said. “Philly people care about their sports. There are ways to handle this occupation. You have to realize this game is about the fans, it always is and always has been. If you [mess] up and have some bad games, a bad season, the only thing you can do is move forward and progress. If you sit back and dwell on the negative, it will get much worse.

“I am very privileged to be a part of Philly. I was just very intimidated when I came here. I didn’t know much about the city. I’ve heard all the stories like fans booing Santa. You just don’t know and you have to find out by playing. The people here [freaking] likes football You get paid a stupid amount of money to play a [freaking] sports so people can have fun on Sundays.”

» READ MORE: Eagles’ Lane Johnson sparks ‘generational inspiration’

Johnson used various resources to treat his mental health. From medication to game-day breathing exercises to learning about other professional athletes’ journeys, Johnson handles what has historically been considered a difficult conversation with a forward-thinking approach.

On Saturday, Johnson learned more about transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a treatment technique that uses a magnetic field to gently stimulate areas of the brain that are underactive in individuals with depression. As explained by tour guide Lindsey Hoffman, TMS sends targeted pulses to the parts of the brain responsible for depression.

TMS is approved by the FDA and covered by a majority of insurance plans. According to research by Success, TMS generates an 84% response rate with a 45% remission rate. TMS Success has eight clinics across the tri-state region.

“It’s really about trying to get there that services are accessible,” says Benjamin Eiss, founding partner of TMS Success. “Lane continues to communicate his struggles, and more people are becoming comfortable with reaching out.”

Since training camp, Johnson has held three similar speaking engagements at depression treatment clinics. His goal is to use his platform and ultimately save others from the global disease. After speaking and hosting his Q&A, Johnson spent extra time getting to know some of the attendees and listening to their personal struggles.

“I’m just at a point right now where I’m just grateful,” Johnson said. “A lot of athletes can’t really enjoy their career until it’s all over. Because when you’re in it, you’re busy, you’re practicing, you’re worried about who you’re playing next. It doesn’t really sink in until the offseason or until you walk away from the game. Everything goes fast.

“In this room I saw many people who could relate. Either they suffer or know someone who does. I feel there is a lot of power in sharing your story. I poured so much of my life into this. I try to perform well. There are jobs that depend on how you play. Coaches, general managers, teammates – there are many things tied to this. When you feel like you’ve let those guys down, that’s when it really hits you.”

At 32, Johnson remains elite. He hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 7 of the 2021 season (1,139 snaps), and he hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 10 of the 2020 season (1,326 snaps).

“On top of being so talented and so fast, he uses the technique he was taught, and it’s all over the film,” offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland recently told The Inquirer. “He’s not just physically freakish, he’s technically sound. Together with those two things, I don’t know who is better.”

» READ MORE: Lane Johnson’s mastery on film as analyzed by Eagles O-line coach Jeff Stoutland

Johnson strives for perfection. He’s hungry to extend his jaw-dropping streak while protecting quarterback Jalen Hurts. He is eager to prove that he is still the best right tackle in football. And he longs to help push the 8-0 Eagles to their second Super Bowl title.

However, Johnson is aware that there are more important things in life that he wants to be able to enjoy. He keeps in regular contact with close friend and recently retired offensive lineman Brandon Brooks. Together, the duo have formed a strong bond away from the pitch as they share their similar experiences with mental health.

“To be honest with you,” Johnson said, “I was thinking about playing this year and maybe two more.”

“A lot of it is because of me [three] children. I don’t want to be away from my children any more than I already am. They’re in Oklahoma half the year, I only see them half the year, that’s all the time I get to spend with them. It’s a drag.”

If 2 1/2 years is all that remains of Johnson’s extraordinary career, what’s next?

“As far as possibly coaching, I love the game of football,” he said. “But coaches spend more time away from their families than the players. They are never home, their families are going through a lot. But I like working with guys. I don’t know if I can do something part time – sort of what [director of player development] Connor Barwin does – whether it’s here or the University of Oklahoma.

“But once me [career] is over, I’m ready to kill my identity as a football player and move into something else. Whatever it is, it must be determined.”

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