Solomon Thomas brings awareness to depression, suicide prevention by opening up about sister's death


Solomon Thomas brings awareness to depression, suicide prevention by opening up about sister's death

SANTA CLARA -- Second-year 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas entered the media workroom on Wednesday at Levi's Stadium and answered questions for more than 15 minutes about his sister and his best friend.

On Saturday, Thomas will take part in Walk Out of Darkness fundraiser in Dallas, near his hometown of Coppell. He is raising money and awareness for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Ella Elizabeth Thomas, 24, took her own life on Jan. 23.

Solomon Thomas spoke openly about the issues – what he saw, what he did not see – that faced his older sister.

How difficult have the last few months been for you?
”Really difficult on me and my family. It’s just hard to even think about it and understand everything that’s happened. But we’ve been blessed by a lot of amazing people around us. The Niners have been so helpful, and like a family organization to us in reaching out and loving, friends and family from around the world. So it’s special to see all that love and support. But it’s definitely been tough, and we’re just trying to grow through it and be there for each other as we go through this hard time.”

What’s the message you want to get out?
“Saturday I’m walking for a lot of things. I’m walking for my sister, and everything she struggled with and everything she went through – the things I didn’t see, the things I did see – all the tragic events that she went through in her life that led her to this point. And I’m walking for all the people who suffer around the world. It’s really easy to fake a smile and put on a face. It’s really easy to tell somebody you’re fine, but it’s really hard to tell someone how you actually feel and all those feelings inside of you. There are so many more people who suffer more than we all know, and I’m walking for them. I’m walking for other people who’ve been affected by this, other people who are going through it.

"Mental health and suicide aren’t things people want to talk about. Mental health, depression, it’s a disease like anything else. And when you talk about other diseases, people talk about them like, ‘We’ll get you through this,’ whatever. But, then, when you talk about mental health or depression or suicide, people scare away because it’s such a serious topic that you don’t know what to say. You don’t know how to handle it. You don’t want to say the wrong thing and push someone over the edge. But it’s such an important topic, such a serious topic, that people need to start talking about it.

“You just got to think about it as everyone is going through something that we don’t know about. And take things differently than other people take them. You can tell someone something that’s positive and they’ll take it as a negative. You got to be sensitive to people, and sensitive to their feelings.

“You want to be empathetic to their feelings for things you don’t understand, because there will be things you don’t understand. But you have to be there for them. Another thought that’s really been hitting me throughout this time is every conversation you have someone, it should be meaningful. When you ask them how they are or what they’re doing or give them a smile or something because that could change someone’s whole life. You never know what they’re going through that day. That one conversation could give them some light or something like, ‘It’s going to be OK.’

“There was one article I read with my parents, Kevin Love’s article, about men and mental health, and I thought that was huge, because, as a man, you’re taught to keep it down in. 'Everything’s going to be OK. Be a man. Be strong. Be tough.' That’s not how we need to live. If something’s wrong, you need to seek help. You can talk to someone about your feelings. You can have feelings because you’re a man. I feel like that’s something that’s not taught right in our society – hold everything in, be strong and it’s going to be OK. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to not feel good. It’s OK to be sad and upset and understand what’s going on. It’s OK to talk about it with other people. It’s something we all struggle with – men and women. Sometimes it’s being afraid to be vulnerable, and I feel like that’s when you grow a lot and you can really see the truth in people.

“So I’m walking Saturday with all of my family and friends to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention and let people know there are other things out there – there’s help out there and there are people who love them.”

Did you ever have talks with her about anything, in terms of depression?
“My sister was open about her depression. She had depression from a lot of things that happened in her life. And we talked about them a lot. I knew she had depression and we were always there for her. We tried to get her help, and there were some things that just pushed her over the edge. I understand it to a point. But I also didn’t understand it because it hurts.“

How much do you go through your mind about this or that? Has that been part of the grieving process?
“Definitely, you always look back on every situation, like, ‘How could I have handled this? Should I have reached out in this time?’ All of that kind of stuff because me and my sister were extremely close. We were always talking, always there for each other. Obviously, you go back through all of those situations and try to analyze everything and see what happened. But at the end of the day, a lot happened, and it’s just crazy.”

How was the organization supportive of you?
“Jed (York), John (Lynch), Robbie (Gould), Elvis (Dumervil) and the twins (Jenna and Mara York) came to my sister’s funeral. To see them at my sister’s funeral was insane. I felt so much love for them coming out. That meant the world to me and my family – so deeply. Getting texts from everyone on the team. Guys checking up on me. Robbie calling me every now and then, texting me every now and then. Other guys texting me every now and then, guys reaching out, writing cards. Just from the team, just from people who aren’t even players and coaches, you know, people who work in the media and all other sides of the business, and just recently guys helping out, donating, and sticking up for me during the walk and having my back. It’s meant the world. I’m really lucky to be part of this organization. I felt the love.”

Can you tell us a little more about Ella and how close you were?
“Obviously, as brother and sister, you butt heads all the time. And we always butted heads when we were younger. Then, around the time I was in middle school and she was in high school, something just clicked and we were always by each other’s side, watching the same movies, always having the same laughs. We finished each other’s sentences, all that kind of stuff. She was my best friend. We were always open with each other, never had anything bad, always transparent. If you couldn’t go to mom or dad, we were always there (for each other). She always lit up the room. You always knew Ella was there, whether she was just being loud or whether she was just in there trying to talk to people. She was so good with people. She worked in the restaurant industry and so, obviously, she had to be good with people and she always was. She could make a crying baby smile. You always knew Ella was there. She just had this great heart, and she loved everyone as hard as she could, whether they deserved her love or whether they didn’t deserve her trust or whether she just met them, she always loved them. That’ll always stick with me – Ella’s heart.”

Any favorite memories you’d like to share?
“I have a lot of memories. One that sticks home with me for the rest of my life, when we became close and made the big transition, was when – it’s not the happiest memory – but when I was in seventh or eighth grade, her best friend’s brother passed away. And she came up to me and she was like, ‘Solly, we never know when our last day is, I want us to make sure we take advantage of every day and be best friends and love each other as hard as we can for the rest of our lives.’ That always stuck with me, and that’s a lesson I’ll pass along to other people.”

When did you know she was dealing with depression?
“Once she left college (University of Arkansas) probably around my sophomore year of college, around then, is when she started to talking to my parents about it and started talking to me about it.”

Did your family have a discussion that you wanted to be open about her death?
“My mom, actually, we sat down me, my mom and my dad and a preacher from our church. And she said, ‘If people ask, I’m going to tell them that this is what happened.’ It was close to when it happened, and so I wasn’t thinking about it. But it really hit home with me now because my mom and my dad and I have been through all of Ella’s transition from being depressed to when everything happened. It’s something we wanted to share, and we want to people to know that people need help and this is a serious thing that a lot of people go through and they don’t talk about. I think last year 45,000 people died by suicide. Ages 10 through 34, suicide is the second-leading cause for death from those ages. That’s a huge deal. That’s a lot of people who couldn’t get help – a lot of people who need help and a lot of people being affected. It’s more than that who are going through depression and going through all the sadness. There needs to be help for everyone out there. I want people to know they can reach out and be loved.”

Has being back in football been therapeutic?
“Football has been good for me. It’s been therapeutic for me. . . I love this sport and I love being around the guys workingout. It’s been more about being around the team. That’s what’s helped me the most – just being around the guys and being able to feel their love on me or just feel like I’m there with them. That’s been the biggest part.”

Can you tell us more about the foundation for which you’re raising money?
“They work on mental health awareness and suicide prevention, working on getting better resources and information for people. They work on a lot of hotlines and places to call, a lot of places to get help. That’s what I know so far. It’s been fun doing this walk or this fundraiser and seeing everyone’s love and help. I think it’s going to be a pretty special event on Saturday, so I’m excited for it.”

Chiefs-Rams Monday night classic shows Raiders, 49ers have far to go


Chiefs-Rams Monday night classic shows Raiders, 49ers have far to go

The 49ers and Raiders ended Week 11 7.5 games and 6.5 games, respectively, back of the lead in their divisions. 

It feels like a lot more than that after Monday night's classic between the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs. 

Los Angeles and Kansas City combined for 1,001 yards of offense and 105 points at the Los Angeles Coliseum, as the Rams held on for a 54-51 victory. If you love offense, it was historic in all the right ways. 

The 49ers have not scored 50 points in a game since Dec. 7, 2003, when Terrell Owens was still a 49er. The Raiders, meanwhile, scored last scored more points than the Chiefs or Rams did Monday night ... eight years ago.

[49ERS: 49ers compiling offseason shopping list ahead of NFL free agency]

Monday's matchup served as a Super Bowl preview, and showed the 49ers and Raiders just how much room is left to climb back to the NFL's elite. Both the Rams and Chiefs have young quarterbacks -- Jared Goff is 24 and Patrick Mahomes is 23 -- and youth is on their side at the skill positions on offense, to boot. 

The 49ers and Raiders like their starting QBs (when healthy), but neither team has the same complement of weapons as their divisional counterparts. The salary cap will force Los Angeles and Kansas City to make some hard decisions, but San Francisco and Oakland are already at that point with Jimmy Garoppolo and Derek Carr earning top dollar. 

We all know things can change quickly in the NFL. But as of Monday night, both teams have a long way to go. 

Jimmie Ward playing for his NFL future even if it's not with 49ers


Jimmie Ward playing for his NFL future even if it's not with 49ers

SANTA CLARA — Before the bye week, coach Kyle Shanahan told the 49ers to think about what they wanted from the last six games of the season.

He implored them to think about their future, and if they really wanted to be a part of the team going forward. One player whose future is uncertain is defensive back Jimmie Ward. 

The 49ers picked up the fifth year option on his rookie contract, but he is one of the few remaining players from the Baalke era. While Ward is happy in Santa Clara, he knows he could be headed to another city after the season comes to a close. 

He understands that the NFL is a business, and that his future in football could be anywhere. He’s ok with that. 

“Doesn’t matter to me as long as I’m playing football,” Ward said. “I love the 49ers, I got drafted here. But at the same time, as I’ve been for five years, I’ve seen a lot change. And it’s going to change each year.” 

Ward’s indifference about his location is not nonchalance. He knows these final games are an audition for his future in the league.

He is playing for a roster spot. Maybe with the 49ers, or maybe with another team.

“It’s like preseason all over again,” Ward said. “That’s how I look at each game.”

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Ward faced many challenges during his Niners tenure. For one, he was asked to play a variety of positions.

He played safety, then nickel and corner before finally playing safety again this season. Ward embraced the challenge, but safety is really the position he enjoys the most. 

“There’s a lot to lose, there’s a lot to gain,” Ward said. “Back at safety ... oh my God, it feels good to be back home. The spot where I played at college and I get to move around a lot too.” 

[CHAN: Kyle Shanahan sees Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida as lethal 49ers tandem in 2019]

Ward will also have to overcome his long injury history. He hopes the “freak accidents” are over, and that both he and fellow safety Jaquiski Tartt can finish out the season strong. They both finished the 2017 season on injured reserve, each with with broken forearm. 

Ward and Tartt both attended Davidson High School in Mobile, Ala. They support and motivate each other, but also want to "one up" each other as well. Ward said it's not just about who makes the big plays, but also who makes the least mistakes. 

The defensive back said he took Shanahan's message to heart. As the season winds down, though, Ward is motivated by his love of the game above all else. 

“Sooner or later I won’t be in the league anymore but football is still going to go on,” Ward said. “That’s just part of football. That’s the business side. So, I hear him, but regardless, if I’m on his team or not, I’m going to play hard. It’s just what I love to do. It’s football."