It started with a single Instagram post on April 3 showing BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum’s jovial smile.
But the subject beneath that smile was much more serious.
As part of BYU’s Mental Health Awareness Week, Mangum shared his own struggle with “mild depression and anxiety.”
“Not many people know that I suffer from mild depression and anxiety. I take antidepressants every day to help with my condition, have visits with a counselor, and I am not ashamed; on the contrary, I am proud to embrace my own personal journey, accept and love myself — flaws and all,” Mangum said in the Instagram post.
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“I am grateful to be able to raise my voice, and stand up for those who experience similar struggles.”
His admission brought an outpouring of support, and turned Mangum — a 2012 Eagle High graduate — into an instant advocate for mental health.
Mangum, a junior, is projected to be the Cougars’ starting quarterback this fall. He was Taysom Hill’s backup last season after playing in all 13 games in 2015. Boise State plays at BYU on Oct. 6.
“I’ve always admired Tanner’s ability to be a leader, to not shy away from tough situations, to not worry about what labels or interpretations people may have,” said Mangum’s high school football coach, Paul Peterson. “I think it takes incredible courage, that self-worth. To me, there’s a level of being comfortable inside your own skin to be able to be in this position.
“I truly do admire anybody that’s transparent. I see enough plasticity in this world, so when I see Tanner in this situation, my respect and admiration for him just went up a whole other notch.”
Mangum has embraced the role, further opening up about the subject during BYU football’s Media Day last Friday.
“By helping others, you will automatically become happier,” Mangum told Utah’s Daily Herald. “I’m a firm believer in that. By forgetting yourself, forgetting your own struggles, by helping someone else, you will feel much better about yourself. That’s kind of how I’ve coped with it the most, trying to find how I can help someone today.”
While there is often a stigma placed on individuals with mental health issues, Mangum’s willingness to come forth gives strength to an estimated 40 million American adults who deal with some sort of anxiety disorder.
His vulnerability has made him a better leader — both on and off the field.
“When I made that post, I wasn’t necessarily sure how it was going to go down, or what was going to happen. But it has been great. I have been able to speak out at different events, different radio shows, and do interviews and talk with different people about it,” Mangum told the Salt Lake Tribune.
“It has really motivated me and inspired me to do more with it, to be able to continue to use my platform for good, to use the position that I am in to stand up for a good cause, and to reach more people, let them know they are not alone and really try to make a difference in that field.”
All the stuff that Tanner’s going through is just a human experience, and I hope that our world embraces and admires somebody that is willing to be honest.
Eagle High coach Paul Peterson, on BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum’s openness about depression and anxiety
Mangum replaced the injured Hill in 2015 in the Cougars’ season opener against Nebraska, throwing a 42-yard pass with no time left to beat the Huskers 33-28 in Lincoln. He followed that up with a come-from-behind win against Boise State in Provo, Utah.
BYU finished the 2015 season 9-4, and Mangum became the 13th member of the 3,000-yard passing club at BYU and the first freshman QB to reach the mark.
But Mangum is no longer simply a quarterback BYU fans can cheer for, he’s someone they can relate to as well.
“The day and age that we live in is very comparison-based,” Mangum told the Daily Herald. “You look at social media, and it’s who has the coolest stuff. We fall into that where we compare ourselves. You kind of have to be aware of it and not fall into that trap. We are all in this together, but we all have different lives and different stories. We all have something to offer. You have to embrace your journey and accept yourself for who you are.”