49er Solomon Thomas seeks to turn tragedy of losing sister into triumph at suicide walk

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Saturday, June 1, 2019
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49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas will walk in the American Foundation for Suicide Awareness "Out of Darkness" walk in honor of his sister, Ella, who he lost to suicide early in 2018.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KGO) -- In 2018, a personal tragedy changed the world of 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.

Now, he seeks to turn his pain into something positive to give back to others who are struggling like him.

"My personal reason is for my big sister, Ella," Thomas said. "She died by suicide on January 23, 2018. It changed my whole world and flipped it all upside down. I lost my best friend and big sister, my person. She was my number one person on this earth. To lose her, just really reset my whole life. I miss her every day."

RELATED: 'My sister was the light of my life' Solomon Thomas shares memories of sister who died by suicide

A #3 overall draft pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Thomas had nothing but high expectations as a defensive star coming out of Stanford University.

But with the passing of his older sister, football had to take a back seat.

"When I realized how bad I was struggling, I was just in this dark hole," Thomas said. "Nothing was bringing me happiness, joy or any passion. I couldn't understand why and I couldn't control it. I understood that I needed to be happy and I just couldn't be. I had to reach out for help and that really saved my life when I realized that I was in a bad place."

RELATED: What to do if you suspect someone is suicidal

Thomas recognizes that depression and mental health issues are not something that is commonly talked about, especially in the sport.

However, that does not stop him from sharing his experiences in the hopes that he can be an inspiration to others while showing that it's okay to not be okay.

"Being a football player in one of the most masculine sports that a lot of men watch, I think it's important for me as a man to show that it's okay to be sad, upset and depressed," Thomas said. "It's okay to cry. It's okay to not be perfect all the time because you're not going to be perfect all the time. You're going to struggle and you're going to feel weird. You may feel sad, angry, or upset but you need to honor those emotions. Understand that your feelings are there for a reason and they are valid."

Another way that he hopes to give back, besides his sharing his struggles and experiences, is by participating in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention "Out of the Darkness" overnight walk in San Francisco, Calif. on June 8.

Each participant must raise at least $1,000 to participate in the run.

All funds go to the AFSP to help continue to raise awareness for mental health in this country.

The walk allows those with similar situations a chance to see they're not alone.

It's one of the reasons why Thomas is choosing to participate.

"It's being able to raise money for a good cause, but being able to hear other people's stories as well," Thomas said. "I have them reach out and tell me their story of who they lost and we have a little moment of people that never met, but I feel their pain and try to be there for them in some way. That's been really cool and really impacting on my heart and my family."

Of course, the top reason why he'll be walking all night, is for his sister.

"I walk for her and the struggles that she had," Thomas said. "She suffered from depression, anxiety and PTSD. I just want to walk for her and honor her every day in everything that I do. She had a dream of doing things like this and helping people with depression, anxiety or those who struggle and don't have a voice. I'm trying to give everyone a voice out there to keep myself going and motivated. I do this to keep myself knowing there's a light and there's a reason to be doing all this."

Solomon Thomas has raised $13,294 for the walk, but is still accepting donations for his cause and his team of "Ella's Sunflowers".

If you'd like to donate, you can find the information on his Twitter or Instagram pages as well as the link here.

To learn more about the walk or the AFSP, visit their website here.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, there are resources available at ABC7 News Take Action page. Explore them here.