Depression and Anxiety Isn’t Always Easy to Spot: Why Former OSU Star Lineman Harrison Miller Is on a Brave Mission to Tell the Truth and Help Others, Too


For many of us, his tears said everything we struggle to say.

Harrison Miller, the former Ohio State star lineman, and current mechanical engineering student had just been asked by Savannah Guthrie on TODAY about his struggles with anxiety and depression, and why he and so many have hurt deeply. “You look around and you say, ‘something’s going on right now; Something needs to happen,’” Miller responded through tears. “The problem is that nobody has to say something—and that is precisely why somebody has to say something.”

Miller did say something. In an open letter on social media, he announced he was “medically retiring” from playing football. He shared his suicidal intentions, the struggles he faced, and the societal stigma that surrounds open discussions about mental health. It was a rallying cry to speak up and out. “Maybe I can vouch for all the people who hurt but are not taken seriously because, for some reason, pain must have prerequisites,” wrote Miller.

Miller’s raw honesty reflects a reality underrepresented in our societal lexicon: mental health struggles do not impact only a certain lot. Every one of us is susceptible to depression, anxiety, and the entire spectrum of pain, and we need to be talking about this.

I chatted with Miller this past week as he was in-between crashing for mid-terms. He divulged how he believe humanity can become more “resiliently tender,” and what he hopes his outspokenness will bring. “It is extremely humbling and very stimulating,” he tells me about the outpouring of messages he’s received. “I’m very grateful.”

A Conversation with Harry Miller


Harry, in the conversation around mental that you’ve started, one important aspect is about breaking the stigma. Many could argue that you “have it all”—friends, family, star lineman status, legions of fans—and wonder how you could be depressed. What do you say to this?

A lot of people have been talking about breaking the stigma. But I’m like, I don’t even really understand why there is a stigma. This is a matter of life and death. It literally is. It’s not a phase—and I don’t think it’s something that you can just push to the side.

You look at these developing countries, like South Korea or Japan, which have extremely technologically advanced societies. And you would say that these people have every physical need met. But you stick people in these massive cities with skyscrapers and glass and concrete. You wake up, work, go to sleep. You think about working. Dream about working. Wake up and go to work again. Multiply that by a year and then some decades. And those people become parents. Along the way, something gets lost in communication. It’s a product of becoming a wealthier, affluent culture: Somewhere along the line, you forget to communicate that instead of all these brands that make our great cars and refrigerators and our supply chain, human hearts are motivating these things. For some reason, we stop talking about the hearts.

These huge literary role models, like Hemingway and Steinbeck and Melville, wrote about how being a human is hard, and sometimes it hurts and sometimes it’s sad. For me, I think somewhere along the line, we got uncomfortable talking about the reality that being a human is a difficult thing and sometimes it hurts really bad. The issue is, when nobody talks about how much it hurts, sometimes you begin to think you’re crazy [when you hurt]. You look around and nobody else looks hurt, so it becomes more and more convincing that there’s something wrong with me. So I wish we could talk about it more. I wish it were more in the literature and the music and in the conversations we have because it would mitigate the harm so much.

In many ways, this system is built in a way for us all to break ourselves against, or to fail. We have this vision of doing it all on our own. But we all need people. We all need each other. You show this in reaching out for help.

I remember having this realization when I was talking with my sports psychologist. We were talking about the concepts of toughness. I don’t want to be receiving this stimulus that’s hurting me and, as a result, that makes me become this hardened, angry person or person who even wants to go as far as not existing anymore. When you go to a steakhouse, you don’t want to order a tough steak. You want to order something tender and something that gives. Well, I don’t want to be this tough, mean, angry person. I want to be tender and enjoyable. There are so many stressors and ideas that are pointing at being tough and ignoring people, and to stop talking to people and stop loving people. I think the tough thing to do is to be resiliently tender. To maintain your love and softness in a way where you can still connect with people.

A few months ago, when my depression was at its peak, it made me withdrawn. It made me reclusive. And that was just the exact opposite of what I needed. And so are circumstances. That is just something I have learned: If we could just fight to maintain the love and tenderness we have toward one another, we could help each other so much. But this is hard to do because everything is so uber-competitive.

You spoke about this on TODAY saying, “the problem is nobody has to say something, which is precisely why somebody has to say something.” Talk more about that, if you will.

It’s this Western standoff where everybody’s trying to see who’s got their bluff and who’s got their pistols loaded. Right. But really, you want someone to come forward and say the way it is. At the height of when I was depressed or suicidal, I was sitting there by myself. You feel so alone in the night, it’s so quiet, and there’s nobody to talk to. You think, Am I crazy? Am I the only person who feels this way? I just wish somebody, this whole time, would just say: ‘No, there is something crazy going on.’ When I talked with Carson [Daly], we were saying that everybody will talk about the weather. It’s no weird thing to talk about. But when a beautiful young person is killing themselves every week, that’s weird to talk about, and then you just move on to the next thing. And I’m like, do we not see what’s happening right now?

There is a lack of vocabulary for how to express feelings of pain and mental illness. For me, there have been points in my life where I couldn’t describe the depression I was experiencing. I didn’t have the words, or I couldn’t define it in conventional terms. One day, I heard someone say that depression is like being homesick while you are home. That helped me. How do you feel about the words we have or don’t have to express this topic?

That idea of being homesick when you’re home makes me remember something. One time I was feeling sad, and I had just come back from hanging out with my best friends. I was sad but I was thinking, it would make sense if I was sad and something sad just happened, but I was just with my best friends and I’m still sad—so now what am I supposed to do? I read a bunch of things looking for answers; every bit of philosophy. It all kept talking about how great death was and how much peace there was. And I was just thinking, let’s cut to the chase then. Let’s pack the bags and book a ticket. It’s just so hard because, as you said, there’s a lack of vocabulary. The way I described it to my friends is that it’s like these little birds, and right when they leave my mouth, they just get swatted out by this really strong one and they never land and they never reveal how I truly feel. I ask myself, what is, what is the truest thing I can say? I found that sometimes the way it is perfectly encapsulated is by saying, ‘I am sad’ or ‘I am hurt.’ Those simple sentences perfectly encapsulated how I feel.

We’ve gotten so used to wanting a five-page evidence citation to prove why this is the way it is. We want it to be peer-reviewed. But there’s no peer review for depression. There’s no peer review for sadness. It’s just, how do we fix it? We say it out loud. I picture the big boogie in the corner of my room when I was this little kid. When I turned on the lights, it became this pile of laundry. I could pick up my boogieman and sort of laugh at it. So words are limiting. But with the people you love and with the people who care, the words don’t even matter. I think depression transcends words, but I think love also transcends words. And that’s what’s great about being a human: We have these complex emotions to grapple with and it’s sometimes too big for, at least, my brain. It feels so heavy, these thoughts in my head, but if I could just put them out there and have my mother or my girlfriend or my friends carry those with me, it makes it much more tolerable.

You have been through a lot. And you will continue to on your journey. How do you take care of your heart and mind, in both the harder times and in the better times?

That’s a good question. I have this file of quotes and proverbs that help me keep my focus. Walt Whitman says, “keep your face always towards the sun and shadows will fall behind you.” One of my favorites is from It’s a Wonderful Life: “no man is a failure who has friends.” We’re a few hundred years past the industrial revolution and we’re surrounded by these big bright screens and these numbers and statistics and it’s so overwhelming. It’s so easy to get lost and distracted. Whenever I get frightened, I just remember that being a happy human is having loving people. Whenever I feel so overwhelmed, I try to realize how superfluous it all is. There’s nothing more than my mother and my father, my brother, and my friends, and my family. Anything else can happen. I’ve still got those people, and there’s nothing more I need than that. That brings me back to my center, and it makes me feel a lot safer, a lot more comfortable, and not so pushed around.

Harrison Miller is a mechanical engineering student at Ohio State University. In his spare time, he travels to Nicaragua as an ambassador for Mission for Nicaragua. You can follow Miller here.


A senior editor of The Sunday Paper, Stacey Lindsay is a multimedia journalist, editorial director, and writer based in San Francisco. She was previously a news anchor and reporter who covered veterans’ issues, healthcare, and breaking news. You can learn more and find her work here, and you can follow her here.


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