Former WR Steve Smith opens up on battle with depression

Former Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. opened up about his struggles with depression during his playing days in an essay for NFL.com on Tuesday.

Smith's revelation comes days after Brian Dawkins delivered a powerful message about depression during his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech over the weekend, which Smith alluded to early in his writing.

"It's crucial for everyone to know that acknowledging personal struggles isn't a sign of weakness, but one of strength," Smith wrote. "Too often taboo, depression is shut behind closed doors -- especially in a tough-guy sport like football, with a social media environment that glorifies successes and status."

Smith writes that he first saw a sports psychologist in 2002, his second season in the league with the Panthers. Though he was still enjoying success on the field, he "couldn't quiet the noise and negative thoughts in my mind" outside the game.

"Despite all of my achievements, I routinely felt trapped, inferior and alone. This overwhelmed me internally and often left me mentally, physically and emotionally broken," Smith wrote.

Smith details several specific instances where he battled those issues, including following the Panthers' win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2003 NFC Championship Game and during his final year in Carolina in 2013. That year he began seeing a counselor for non-football related matters, which he continued to do upon joining the Ravens for the last three seasons of his career.

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Steve Smith throughout his NFL career
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Steve Smith throughout his NFL career
Carolina Panthers Steve Smith in action during the 2001 National Football League season. (Photo by Allen Kee/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 8: Wide Receiver Steve Smith #89 of the Carolina Panthers handles the ball during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Ericsson Stadium on December 8, 2002 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers defeated the Bengals 51-21. (Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 19: Jevon Kearse #90 of the Tennessee Titans shares a laugh with Steve Smith #89 of the Carolina Panthers after a game on October 19, 2003 at Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 21: Steve Smith #89 of the Carolina Panthers in action during a game against the Detroit Lions on December 21, 2003 at Erickson Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
1 Feb 2004: Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers dances after his touchdown reception during the Panthers 32-29 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII at Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX. (Photo by Bob Leverone/Sporting News via Getty Images)
Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers runs past Nick Greisen during the NFC Wild Card playoff game between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on January 8, 2006. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith before an NFC wildcard game January 8, 2006 at the Meadowlands. The Carolina Panthers defeated the Giants 23 - 0. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
January 22, 2005: Carolina Panthers panthers wide receiver Steve Smith stiff arms Seattle Seahawks corner back Kelly Herndon during the second quarter at Quest Field in Seattle, WA. (Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith warms up for play against the Washington Redskins Nov. 26, 2006 at FedEx Field in Washington. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith celebrates a big catch in the fist half against the New York Giants. The Giants defeated the Panthers, 27-13, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sunday, December 10, 2006. (Photo by Christopher A. Record/Charlotte Observer/MCT via Getty Images)
Aug 04, 2007 - Charlotte, NC, USA - Carolina Panthers STEVE SMITH (89) on Aug. 4, 2007 at Fan Fest at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. (Photo by Bob Leverone/Sporting News via Getty Images)
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith February 12, 2006 at the Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) sits on the ground laughing up at running back DeShaun Foster during training camp practice at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (Photo by Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT via Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 24: Steve Smith #89 of the Carolina Panthers waves before the preseason NFL game against the New England Patriots at Bank of America Stadium August 24, 2007, in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith at an NFC practice Feb. 8 for the 2007 Pro Bowl at Kapolei, Hawaii. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 23: DeAngelo Hall #21 of the Atlanta Falcons attempt to run down wide receiver Steve Smith #89 of the Carolina Panthers as he picks up a first down on this reception at Georgia Dome on September 23, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia. Carolina defeated Atlanta 27-20. (Photo by Rex Brown/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 30: Steve Smith #89 of the Carolina Panthers drives for a catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on December 30, 2007 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 18: Wide receiver Steve Smith #89 of the Baltimore Ravens stands on the field during warm ups prior to their NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on October 18, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - OCTOBER 2: Steve Smith Sr. #89 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
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"Generally, throughout much of my life, unhappiness, constant self-criticism and an inability to let old blunders go weighed so heavily on my mind," Smith wrote. "I can recall hundreds of these moments, on and off the gridiron, when I felt inept. It really took a toll on my mental state."

Smith retired after the 2016 season and said he finally feels free now that his NFL career is over. The 39-year-old amassed 1,031 catches for 14,731 yards and 81 touchdowns during his 16 seasons in the league.

Athletes across all sports have recently been opening up about their struggles with depression as the issue has led to the suicides of several well-known figures, which Smith also addressed.

"My advice to anyone suffering from mental health issues -- and specifically athletes who can relate -- is this: Ask for help. Stop trying to deal with these serious matters alone," Smith wrote. "You're not alone. Believe me."

--Field Level Media

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