One year ago, Mark Rypien went public about his years of struggling with mental health. Today, the former NFL quarterback and Super Bowl XXVI MVP wants to boost awareness about brain injury, depression and solutions.
The Shadle Park High School graduate and former Washington State University quarterback recently talked about what’s helped him in the past year, while pressing for more dialogue on ways to help depression sufferers and victims of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease diagnosed postmortem.
Part of that includes newer technologies. Rypien and his wife Danielle said they saw a significant difference after his treatments this past fall applying transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a procedure using magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain.
“It’s a noninvasive procedure, where you’re not being medicated every minute of every day,” Rypien said.
“I started my treatment in September of last year, did it for 30 days, and felt a much heightened state of mind. It really has been a very positive experience for me. I recommend it to anyone who is wanting to get to a place where they’re not being medicated all the time to deal with their depression and anxiety.”
Rypien said he still takes some medication because of mental health struggles, but TMS caused a noticeable change after sessions using NeuroStar Advanced Therapy — an FDA-approved, non-drug option. The magnetic pulses can awaken areas of the brain that are under-active in people with depression.
Danielle Rypien echoed that the couple had tried different treatments, but the TMS option stood out.
“The goal of TMS is not to get off medication, and indeed Mark is not off medication, so they don’t assume that you won’t need it after; odds are you will,” she said. “But the idea is that medication has not done enough. The goal is to get a result where you have less depression, less anxiety.”
“What I noticed the most is he had less episodes where he felt suicidal, almost immediately,” she added. “I noticed that he was able to take more time to think before he did something.
“And if he was doing something that to an observer looked pretty irrational, but he didn’t see that, it is now possible to bring it up to Mark. He can bring up facts and thoughts and come to a different conclusion. That’s not something he could do before.”
Danielle Rypien said it was previously difficult for her husband to ask for help from close family and friends. Post-TMS, he has an easier time talking about “the real hard stuff.”
“After TMS treatment, Mark was able to ask for deeper levels of help that before he wouldn’t ask for,” she said. “It lowers his anxiety and to be where he can talk, and listen. Before it was overwhelming for him.”
Rypien said after the treatment, he noticed that his thoughts were more clear and focused. He felt safer.
“I’d say I felt less anxiety, irritability, more of a cognitive state where I felt more in the present versus kind of not thinking, mostly.”
He’s heard other people experienced temporary headaches from TMS, but he didn’t.
Although the FDA approved TMS as a procedure about 10 years ago, Spokane residents have had limited access until recently. In March, Rypien spoke at a public event held by TMS Solutions, at 528 E. Spokane Falls Blvd., where he received treatments. Separately, Spokane neurologist Dr. David Greeley offers the same TMS treatments through Kingfisher TMS. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Lori DiRicco offers TMS treatment as well through Mind Over Matter Mental Health.
Rypien isn’t a business partner with TMS Solutions or any such facility, but said he thought it was important to tell others about the non-drug depression option. He saw Dr. Robert Sammons, TMS Solutions’ chief medical officer. Rypien expects to go back for a shorter TMS “tune-up.”
(Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review, is an investor in TMS Solutions.)
The TMS treatments typically last for about 20 minutes. Sammons also works with University of Washington-trained medical residents in Spokane to teach about TMS treatments.
Rypien said he’s talking to veterans and other people who struggle with depression to consider TMS.
“The VA has put in orders for 40 of these machines across the country,” he said. “I think it’s instrumental to talk about this for awareness and to have others gain the experience I’ve been fortunate to have.”
In a March 30, 2018 article in The Spokesman-Review, Rypien shared how memory loss, violence, depression and uncontrollable impulses long plagued him. There was a close scrape with suicide, when he swallowed 150 Advil and washed them down with a bottle of merlot.
Danielle found him and saved him – pouring hydrogen peroxide and activated charcoal down his throat to get him to vomit up the pills, and then sat up with him all night. In more recent years, they connected Rypien’s behaviors with those experienced by generations of National Football League alumni who had endured multiple hits to the head.
Rypien was a lead plaintiff joined by some 4,500 former NFL players to exact reparations — but no concessions of fault — from the league. The 2015 movie “Concussion” also raised public awareness about brain injury and CTE.
And Mark Rypien thinks it’s also time to listen to others experiencing mental health issues.
“We can talk about triple bypass surgeries, leukemia, brain tumors and all aspects of diabetes at the dinner table, but when it comes to mental illness, it’s not something we talk about on an everyday basis,” he said. “To say, ‘As much as I’m strong in who I am, I need help.’
“We would like to help so that people feel more comfortable talking about mental health.”
They couple said they’re helping to develop a suicide prevention app offering individualized support from an inner circle of friends and family of someone with mental health symptoms. It would help that circle to recognize signs, get tools and take action. It’s expected to launch in about a year.
Through the NFL lawsuit, more comprehensive information is expected to come out about brain injury and mental health, Rypien said. “We’ve barely skimmed the surface.” It’s an issue that, along with bizarre behavior, is often quietly discussed among wives of NFL players, Danielle Rypien said.
Meanwhile, the couple say it’s important to discuss the potential consequences of brain injuries as well as safety in sports.
TMS is often covered by major insurance plans. The treatment is typically administered daily for four to six weeks. The most common side effect is pain or discomfort near where treatment site, which typically resolves within one week.