Slack shares story at Helen Keller lecture

Published 9:48 pm Thursday, April 9, 2009

“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much,” was the theme of this year’s Helen Keller lecture. The famous quote is by none-other than Keller herself. “From the Inside Looking Out” was the title of the 14th annual event, held at Troy University. The lecture highlights individuals who have overcome physical or mental obstacles to become successful. Slack Consulting president and Respect International Founder Joel Slack delivered this year’s keynote address. Adhering to the lecture theme, Slack shared his story with the audience, as he had overcome adversity, too.

After Slack’s first year playing collegiate basketball, he suffered a mental breakdown, which he said brought him to his knees.

“I was always active in sports, and I never knew that my competitive nature and drive to succeed would help me face my greatest opponent, mental illness,” Slack said. “When I became ill with clinical depression, it brought me to my knees for over eight years.”

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After playing basketball for years, Slack said his depression made it difficult to play basketball at the level he had previously played.

“After my first year of college, things started to change. It would take all of my energy to get out of my bed, I had trouble focusing and I began isolating myself from others,” Slack said. “My mind was preventing me from playing basketball. I couldn’t make the shots that I had never had trouble making before.”

Slack said he remembers the day of his mental breakdown vividly.

“Within a 15-minute period, I went from someone who had control over my mind and my life, to having no control over anything. It was like a levy broke, and all I could do was scream,” he said.

Slack said he remembered drawing strength from the simplest gesture-his dad holding his hand.

“Although my parents didn’t know what to do, my dad reached out and held my hand, and I drew strength from just his hand hold. At the end of that summer, I was admitted to a long-term psychiatric hospital.”

“I approach mental health advocacy with the same passion and competitive nature that I approached basketball,” Slack said. “Respect is the most important aspect in recovery of mental illness. Respect activates the resilience in humans. I flew out of ‘the cuckoo’s nest,’ because people showed me respect.”

Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr. said the lecture is a wonderful event.

“This is an extraordinary event, and through this program we have seen remarkable changes. Rehab programs have expanded and we now have the only deaf interpretive training program in the state,” Hawkins said. “This lecture delivers an important message annually. It gives us a great opportunity to focus on that which is often forgotten.”