Many Questions After Junior Seau’s Death
‘Junior was our Superman, he was one of the heroes in the city of Oceanside’
Originally published May 3, 2012 at 11:30 a.m., updated May 3, 2012 at 3:51 p.m.
Alan Kidd, President, San Diego Hall of Champions
Mike Hollins, Area Director, Boys & GIrls Club of Oceanside
Jessica van der Stad, San Diego director, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Dr. Steven Ornish, UCSD School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry
The shocking death of sports icon Junior Seau is still being felt by fans and friends around San Diego. Flower tributes and notes are being left by fans in memorials at Seau's Oceanside home and the restaurant that bears his name in Mission Valley. Oceanside police say they found no suicide note, but they are calling Junior Seau's fatal shooting self-inflicted.
Among those who are grieving are members of the Boys and Girls Club of Oceanside, where Seau started as a member at 10 years old and later donated his time and money.
Mike Hollins, the area director of that club, told KPBS that Seau's death was left members of the Boys and Girls club in complete shock.
"I have talked to friends of mine who were around about the same time that Junior was around at the Boys and Girls Club, and they're still in shock, a lot of people still can't believe it," he said. "I can't believe it. Like I said, it's a numb feeling that you have, you don't really know how to react. We don't know all the answers, we don't know exactly what happened. Reports say this, reports say that, so right now people are just in shock."
Hollins knew Seau at the club when he was 10 years old, and told KPBS he remembered him as a "very intense competitor."
"He played 200 percent hard all the time," Hollins said.
Seau built and donated equipment for The Junior Seau Fitness Center at the Oceanside Boys and Girls Club, and would often come work out there, Hollins said.
"I think he was just giving back to the neighborhood kids," he said. "He was just trying to let the kids know that you can make it if you try hard and work hard."
"Junior was our Superman, he was one of the heroes in the city of Oceanside," Hollins added.
Hollins said local schools and the Boys and Girls Club would be holding sessions today for children to ask questions about Seau's death.
Seau committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest - a death very similar to the suicide of former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson last year. The manner of Seau's death led to speculation over whether he might have had depression caused by head trauma sustained during his football career.
"Duerson made the choice to end his life that way so that scientists could study his brain for trauma," according to Voice of San Diego. And researchers confirmed Duerson's brain showed the same trauma-induced disease found in other football players who had also died.
But Dr. Steven Ornish, a clinical psychiatrist at UC San Diego's School of Medicine, said that link is hard to verify.
"Well there is a link between depression and head trauma, but the relationship between depression, head trauma and suicide is not clear," he told KPBS. "There is a clear link, though, between depression and suicide. And the vast majority of people who commit suicide are suffering from depression."
While Ornish said there "seems to be an association" between head trauma and suicide, "there's really very little research done on that topic, and whether there's a cause and effect relationship requires further study."
Ornish said doctors do know that head injuries cause depression, but stressed that depression is treatable.
"The suicide ideation and thoughts of suicide often are stemming from the untreated depression, and it's the person's attempt to try to get away from a great deal of emotional pain," he said.
Seau was known for being outgoing and cheerful, while Ornish said the normal face of depression is to be depressed, agitated, anxious, or withdrawn. But Ornish said there is also a type of "smiling depression," where sufferers put on a facade.
"They look to the outside world like they're functioning just fine, and yet they're really crying on the inside," he said. He added that famous people can often feel stigma about getting help for their depression.
Warning signs of suicide include changes of mood, including irritability in men, changes in sleep patterns and making veiled references to dying, Ornish said.
Information about suicide prevention can be found by calling (800) 479-3339 or on the website up2SD.org.