What is Mental Health?

My thoughts on what it means to be mentally health

Mental health is a phrase we hear a lot in today’s world. Many people are affected by it but the idea around what it actually is seems fleeting. To find an official definition, I went to mentalhealth.gov. On the site, it says “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.” In my opinion, it’s a good start but still feels pretty vague.

Throughout my life, mental health has been vital. Dealing with family trauma from an early age had me always thinking about my mindset. Through time, I figured out what mental health means to me. Mental health is the ability to be present with yourself. Not allowing your past traumas or future anxieties to dictate your present state. Often, I get in my head thinking about past events or things that are coming. I realized I’m at my best when I am fully in the now. I learned the difference through football.

When I was on the field not thinking, I was the best version of myself. I made every play I was supposed to, I anticipated plays that were coming and reacted at the right time. This was me in the zone. Nothing else mattered besides the field and the football. I have, however, been on the field while I was in my head. When I first got to the NFL, I was in over my head. I had to learn new schemes, new techniques, and a new speed to the game. It didn’t help that my rookie year was a lockout, so I missed all of OTAs, Minicamp, and Rookie Minicamp. I was behind the 8-ball but determined to make the team.

The first couple days of training camp with the New Orleans Saints, not all the starters on defense were signed yet. So, the coaches had to put me out on the field with the likes of Drew Brees, Marques Colston, and Jimmy Graham. I was nervous as hell and it showed. I overthought everything I was doing and felt 10 steps behind everybody. All I did was think about what I was supposed to do, whether I messed up or not, and what the coaches thought about me. After the first couple of days, I thought my chances of making the team were done. Once the starters were signed, I went back to the bench. Even though I wanted to play, I was grateful to get an opportunity to learn. Things finally slowed down for me. At this point, I developed a method to clear my mind while I was on the field. All I thought about was where I was supposed to be on the field, my assignment, and running as fast as I can to the ball. This method allowed me to finally be present. There was a lot for me to learn but focusing on those things allowed me to do the bare minimums of my responsibility.

By using that checklist, my talent started to show. I still made mistakes, but they were less frequent and easier to correct. This method was the main reason I made the team. Simplifying what I thought about to the bare necessities allowed me to be present and make plays. This taught me a lot about mental health. When I was thinking about what I had to do and what the results of the play would be, I was anxious and nervous and I never made a play feeling that way. Focusing on just 3 things gave me the freedom to be present and more importantly, be myself on the field. Being present is the key to mental health, as it allows you to be the best version of yourself.

Isa Abdul-Quddus is a former NFL Athlete, playing 6 years at safety for the Saints, Lions and Dolphins. After suffering a career ending injury, he took his focus to sharing his story, emphasizing on mental health. Isa also loves music (Hip Hop and R&B), film and reading.