Two years ago, Brandon Saho was “living the dream” as a sports reporter for a top television station in his home town. But in March 2022, he suddenly quit and checked into a hospital.
And a year later, as he told an engaged audience of student-athletes and coaches at Bedford High School last week, for the first time he “felt complete happiness, feeling like myself, valuing myself.”
Saho hosts “The Mental Game,” a podcast he started in November featuring interviews with athletes, musicians, and other celebrities about dealing with depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles. He said his mission is simple: “to save lives.”
His visit to BHS was part of a “30-states-in-30-days tour,” accompanied by his personal videographer, what Saho called “a mental-health town hall.”
Saho said he battled depression and contemplated suicide off and on for about 15 years, “and didn’t tell anybody.” Even when he achieved his dream job of covering professional football in Cincinnati, “I always struggled with this feeling of being alone. And I didn’t know anyone else struggled like that.” He added, “I was an alcoholic for eight years. There were so many nights of me walking home drunk and thinking about suicide.”
Ultimately, he checked into a hospital, where “mental health professionals saved my life.” He began therapy, and said he found “a new purpose in life: to help others.”
The speaker, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt reading “therapy is cool,” was introduced by BHS sophomore Tova Yerardi, an ambassador for Morgan’s Message. That’s a national organization on college and high school campuses that says its vision is “to strive to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health within the student-athlete community and equalize the treatment of physical and mental health in athletics.”
“My first suicidal thought came at age 14,” related Saho, 30, after exposure of a compromising photograph. “Everybody was pointing and making fun of me; I felt alone. I didn’t know what to do.”
Only the support from two friends, who “could tell something was off,” was “probably the reason why I made it through high school.”
He added, “Value the relationships that you have because when you going through stuff, they become your best friends.”
Saho graduated from high school in Cincinnati in 2011, and at that time, he said, “No teacher asked me what was going on. I just wish they had just said, ‘Hey, I’m here to talk.’”
A teacher may not be a mental health professional, he said, but for students, a teacher can be “the person they look up to, you’re the person they trust.”
“You have to talk about it. You can’t do this alone,” Saho said. “What I’m so thankful [for] is that we have organizations like Morgan’s Message and we are having this conversation today.”
Covering the professional football conference championship game in 2021, “I’m living my dream and having the most fun at work. But for three months, I was suicidal every second,” triggered by family bereavement and a failing romantic relationship.
“This is something that I am passionate about,” he told the audience. “Even while I was covering the biggest sports in the world (the 2022 Super Bowl), no one knew what I was going through. Battling mental health struggles, I hit rock bottom when I was at the height of my career.
“If you don’t remember anything else from tonight, [remember this]: if you are feeling depression, suicidal, talk to your family, a counselor, a coach,” he said. “The most important thing is feelings are temporary. When I was suicidal, I never thought I would get over that moment and I am living proof that you can. I don’t recognize the person I was. You have to work on yourself and you have to reach out for help.
“Simple things can help you,” he said. “You all deserve to be happy. Figure out a way to make yourself happy and have self-worth and confidence.”
He urged the teenagers to “be honest with your parents and your friends,” though he acknowledged that “talking to your parents can be difficult.”
He also noted that the 9-8-8 hotline is “a great resource.”
“A lot of people just started talking about this stuff and breaking the stigma about five years ago,” Saho observed. “Just basic things – setting boundaries, coping mechanisms, realizing what to look for in the people you care about, so many things that I never thought about.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was a turning point. “The world stopped and they had to start thinking about their mental health.”
“[If] you break your leg, you’re going to the doctor. We have to think about mental health the same way. I needed the tools to help myself.”
Now, “People are talking about it way more than I’ve ever seen. In high schools and colleges, you have therapists, you have counselors. They have one goal: to help you feel better about yourself.”
He also noted that “the culture has completely changed among professional athletes,” with teams “talking about things we’re going through, holding retreats,” rather than just “lifting, practicing, playing.”
Through his podcasts and responses to them, Saho related, “I’ve learned that everybody struggles. I think my perspective is unique – I can get you to hear their stories.”
Several students in the auditorium asked questions following Saho’s presentation:
- How does he ground himself during stressful moments? “Because I’ve been at rock bottom, I have the tools about how to cope. I know this is not the end of the world. It’s a bad 10 minutes, a bad day. It’s not going to be a bad life.”
- How do you handle the pressure of failure? “You have to set realistic goals, realistic boundaries, and focus on what you can control. I learned by failing. I wish I could take away the pain and suicidal thoughts, but now I’ve found my true calling. So, you will fail – it’s about how you get up.”
- Does he have tips for someone feeling anxious and depressed? “The worst thing is bottling it up. Find things that make you happy. And make sure you tell someone about a friend who is acting strange.”
- How can you tell if someone is feeling depressed? “If they’re not doing the things they love, they might be going through a mental health crisis. One of the biggest things you can do to help somebody is just listen, and make it an accessible conversation.”
- Why is therapy “cool?” “I think therapy is cool because you have that unbiased point of view that just wants to help you. Your friends may just tell you what you want to hear. Your parents want to protect you.” So, find the person or people that can help you make a difference in your life.