‘Whatever he needs’: Tigers forming internal support system for Austin Meadows

Detroit News

Detroit — Tyler Alexander said it straight.

“Mental health is no joke,” the lefty reliever said before the game Sunday. “I feel for the guy. It’s a tough spot to be in and whatever he needs to do, just get right. I don’t want to speak for everybody, but I’m pretty sure that’s how everybody in this clubhouse feels.”

Nobody in the Tigers’ clubhouse, players, coaches or support staff, knew Austin Meadows was still struggling with anxiety disorder. He came to camp seemingly in great health, both physically and mentally. He smiled easy. He worked hard and he came into the season in a great place.

Except he wasn’t. Not at all.

“It’s crazy how well people can hide things that they are going through,” said pitcher Mason Englert, who has had his own struggles with anxiety and depression. “I know, for me personally, it was the same way. You wouldn’t have known the difference, but you don’t know the kind of angst might be out there.

“We just have to support him and help him out as much as we can.”

Meadows played in six of the first seven games this season but didn’t show up at the park Saturday. Tigers’ president Scott Harris and manager AJ Hinch had been alerted on Friday that Meadows was struggling.

On Saturday, the decision was made to put him on the 10-day injured list.

“It’s hard to see one of your favorite people in the clubhouse struggle again,” said Hinch, referencing that Meadows stepped away from the team last September to deal with his anxiety. “We will be there for him and continue to check on him and do whatever is needed to be the support system he needs.”

The Tigers, especially in the short time Harris has been at the helm, have been proactive in dealing with mental-health issues. There are four psychiatrists on staff. Meadows, too, has talked about his personal support system, which includes doctors and nutritionists.

“What clubs can do is make it OK and not taboo if you need to step back for a minute and take care of that,” Englert said. “To have that support of everybody is super important, which Austin does. What Scott did bringing in four different psychiatrists, all with different backgrounds, and then coming out ahead of everything this spring and saying, hey, if you need anything this year, like we want to make your mind healthy.

“Then players feel safe when they’re in a spot where something is off. It’s easy to go forward and say, hey, this is what’s up and this is what I need and they can get the help they deserve. It’s a healthy environment.”

Meadows, being as forthright about his struggles as he was last September and even during spring training, has done a lot of destigmatize the issue, as well.

“I am very proud of him for speaking up about this again,” infielder Ryan Kreidler said. “He is the last person that wants to talk about it. He’s the last person that wants this to be going on. He doesn’t want to miss games, either.  I think there is a stigma around it because it seems like the person who is struggling with it is opting for time away.

“You have to recognize there is no option. They have to step away. We love Austin. We care deeply about him. We all extend our support.”

Meadows clearly tried to soldier through, hoping to regain his balance. It wasn’t happening.

“I’m the first to tell you, as men, we’re terrible at admitting when we need help or we need to go a different route,” Hinch said. “If we can somehow, someway get rid of that feeling of guilt, that feeling of failure, that feeling of being wrong — to me it would be so much better for all of us.”

Said Alexander: “We didn’t know he was struggling, but that’s the thing. It’s a closet situation. I guess he was doing a good job of gutting it out and battling through it. But it got to a certain point where he couldn’t do it anymore.”

Anxiety can be triggered by a multitude of factors, different and varied for each individual sufferer. The trigger doesn’t have to be environmental. It can be triggered from within.

“It’s just that something is off internally,” Englert said. “It’s like a physical health condition that manifests in your mind. It’s harder to figure out — diet, medication, holistic, whatever. It’s a guessing game until you figure it out.

“And it can happen again. Everybody’s got some weak spot where if something is off it shows up. For some of us, it’s in the mind.”

The first time Englert experienced anxiety, he said it went from zero to a hundred — from feeling fine one minute to wondering what the heck was going on the next.

“After that I went from feeling seriously strange for four months,” he said. “Then it was four to six months of being in and out of it pretty frequently before I got to where I’m at now.”

Meadows has been treating his condition for about seven months.

“It’s a huge process,” Englert said. “It took more than a year to figure out and then it’s still a process. You’ve got work every day. It has to be a part of your routine. But just have faith that if you are feeling something, it’s not going to be that way forever.

“Though it can feel that way sometimes.”


Twitter: @cmccosky  

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