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Radio Smart Talk: How mental illness derailed a career and changed a life

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | May 28, 2013 3:17 PM
Wysocki at Maryland 300 x 170.jpg

Radio Smart Talk for Wednesday, May 29:

Wednesday's Radio Smart Talk focuses on a former football player, but the program is not about football.  It's about mental illness and the toll it can take on a person's career and life.

Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania native Charlie Wysocki was an All-America running back at the University of Maryland in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Wysocki ran for more than 3,300 yards during his four years at Maryland.  He still holds several school records.  Wysocki was one of a just a few college football stars that toured the country before their senior seasons.  They were thought to be the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy, as the nation's top football player. 

Unfortunately, an injury during his senior year kept Wysocki from finishing his career with a Heisman or any other awards.  It also may have scared off National Football League teams.  Unexpectedly, Wysocki wasn't drafted by a pro team, although he did sign a free-agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys.

However, the whole time Wysocki was with the Cowboys in training camp, he couldn't sleep.  It was the first sign of trouble.  He was cut by the Cowboys.

Wysocki attempted to take his own life.  He eventually was diagnosed with severe bi-polar disorder.

Wysocki has been institutionalized about 20 times since.

A new book by C. Terry Walters, Saddle Up Charlie, chronicles Wysocki's journey through football and mental illness.

Joining us on the program will be Charlie Wysocki, Terry Walters, Adam Bender from Goodwill Industries, and Jan Mroz from National Alliance on Mental Illness in Scranton.

Facts about bi-polar disorder and mental illness:

  • Bipolar Disorder – common emotions become intensely and unpredictably magnified (APA)
    • All have manic episodes that last at least a week, not all become depressed
    • Shifts can be so devastating that lead to suicide
  • About 4% of the general population suffers from a bipolar disorder
    • About 2% for children and teens
    • A third as common as depression, twice as common as autism spectrums
    • More common in the US than other countries
      • Over 4% in US, intl average is about 2%
  • Often misdiagnosed as depression or ADHD, especially in children
  • No conclusive evidence linking certain demographics with bipolar
  • Women more likely to seek help for depression, so more women diagnosed with bipolar\
  • Caused by combination of genes and environment
    • Genetics very important factor but
      • A person w/ bipolar’s identical twin has at least 20% chance of not having disorder
    • Stress, trauma, emotional family conflict and possibly diet increase chances
  • Adults less likely to experience mania, more likely to experience depression
    • Children have more manic episodes (mixture of high energy and negative mood)
  • Especially with minorities, bipolar is sometimes misdiagnosed as schizophrenia
  • About 60% of those with bipolar have a history of drug or alcohol abuse
    • Often regarded as attempted self-medication
  • APA reports that 5 mental illnesses – bipolar disorder, autism, schizophrenia, depressive disorder, deficit-hyperactivity disorder- all share genetic links
  • No cure for disorder, only therapies and treatments to make it easier to live with condition
  •  American with Disabilities Act (1990) prevents discrimination based on mental illness, but stigma is still strong (Mental Health Association in PA)
    • Second leading cause of disability
    • Second leading cause of workplace absenteeism
  • One in four Americans live with a mental illness
    • 20% of children have diagnosable mental illness in any given year
  • Of people with serious mental illness, fewer than half seek treatment
    • Those that do often keep treatment secret to avoid discrimination
    • Statistically women seek treatment more than men
Charlie Wysocki-Mental Illness .jpg

Charlie Wysocki, Terry Walters, Adam Bender

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Comments: 1

  • Robert Colgan img 2013-05-29 08:55

    I'm so sorry I missed the first 25 minutes of this show......but my questions are

    1) at what age did Charlie first strongly display symptoms of BPD...?

    2) was he ever checked for heavy metal toxicity, or absorption of chemicals through exposure that can cause mental instability....?
    And were his neurotransmitter levels checked to see if there's a major imbalance of any of them....?

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