Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young opened up about his struggles with mental health issues at a charity event, revealing that he grew up with severe separation anxiety that went undiagnosed well into his playing career with the San Francisco 49ers.
According to The Athletic, Young made the comments April 25 at the Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club in Menlo Park, California, during a charity banquet for the non-profit Child Mind Institute. During his speech onstage, Young recalled excelling in school and in sports, but described episodes where he made excuses to avoid being separated from his parents. His mother Sherry Young would walk him to school and would stay in the classroom. When friends asked him to sleep over at their homes, Young would use athletics and early-morning practices as excuses.
NEVER MISS A SNAP: Sign up for our NFL newsletter for exclusive content
“I didn’t know this, but I grew up with severe childhood separation anxiety,” Young said during the event, per The Athletic. “All I knew was that I didn’t sleep over at other people’s houses. I had straight A’s, I didn’t miss a day of school, and I was captain of three sports. I mean, if you knew me back then you’d say, ‘That kid’s killin’ it.’ Because I was killing it. But if you said, ‘Hey, wanna sleep over at my house?’ The answer was: ‘It isn’t happening.’ “
Young said that his struggles continued into his 30s. He recalled the leadup to an October 1991 game against the Atlanta Falcons in which he endured two consecutive sleepless nights and feelings of anxiety. After discussions with his family, Young realized that something was wrong and promised that he would seek help.
After the game against the Falcons, Young said he saw team doctor James Klint, whom he referred to as Reggie. Young asked Klint to speak privately and eventually told him his symptoms and everything he was dealing with leading up to game days.
“Reggie said, ‘Steve, what you’re suffering from is undiagnosed severe childhood separation anxiety,’ ” Young said. “I’ve been playing pro ball for five, six, seven years, you know? I was like, ‘What? What are you talking about?’
“But the next day, I went to the child psychologist, and we’re having a conversation and he asked me 10 questions. And if you answer yes to eight of them, then you have this severe thing — and I answered 10 of them ‘yes.’ It was like just classic. How is it that I’m (30) years old and I finally have a name for this crazy thing?”
Young played 15 seasons in the NFL from 1985-99. The first two years of his career were with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while the rest were with San Francisco. Young was a three-time Super Bowl champion, three-time AP first-team all-pro, a two-time MVP and a seven-time Pro Bowler.
He finished his career with a 64.3% completion percentage, with 33,124 yards, 232 touchdowns and 107 interceptions. He also ran the ball 722 times for 4,239 yards and 43 touchdowns.
“I really do look at it simply as being lost in the woods when a park ranger comes by,” Young said. “Would you feel ashamed to ask him for directions? No, you’d be an idiot, not to ask him for direction. I want the same kind of experience for everyone as we make this less shameful. It would be foolish not to seek help for mental health.”