Mental health awareness: 49ers defensive end Solomon Thomas opens up about mental health struggles, shares advice

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As the stigma around mental health begins to change, people are finding the courage to open up about their struggles, including NFL players.

49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas has become a champion for mental health awareness following a major change in his life.

RELATED: 'Your Mental Health: A Bay Area Conversation,' virtual town hall addressing COVID-19 impact on mental health

Doesn't it seem like all life changes in an instant?

The San Francisco 49ers were basically just competing for the Super Bowl, and now the sports world has turned on it's head.

"It's just crazy to think that we were just chilling during that time and we didn't hear about it and it didn't become a big deal until March," Thomas said. "When everything happened in March, it was just crazy."

Seemingly as quickly as the world changed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Thomas' life changed dramatically in 2018.

"My sister, Ella, died by suicide after my rookie year," Thomas said. "Man, it just kind of flipped my world upside down. I didn't know where to go. I was very confused, angry, and really, really sad."

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Losing someone he called the most important person in his life caused Thomas to fall into a depression that even impacted his play on the football field.

But through an openness with himself and his feelings, he fought through and became a strong voice for mental health awareness.

"I had to make a stride and make a decision that I'm going to live for her," Thomas said. "I'm going to take all the amazing qualities that I learned from her and I'm going to apply them to my life and live through her every day. If I can focus on those things, I can always be true to myself and that's one of the hardest things to do in this day and age is be true to yourself. That's something that I've been trying to work on is to make sure that everything I do is in alignment with who I am and what I value."

The changes in the world can be scary and lead to mental health issues, much like the changes we are seeing daily due to COVID-19.

But Thomas says it's important to be strong through whatever life offers.

TAKE ACTION: List of supportive resources for mental health issues

"If you're feeling weird, sad, awkward, angry or happy, that's how you're supposed to be feeling," Thomas said. "Don't neglect your feelings, embrace them. Always be true to your feelings. It's definitely not an easy time for anyone, especially with the uncertainty of not being able to work, not being able to be outside, it's hard for a lot of people right now. So I definitely have my heart with a lot of people and sending a lot of positive energy and love to a lot of people."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, click here for supportive resources.

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