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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Cliff Richey: Professional Tennis Player Aces Depression

By Dianna Loevner

Cliff Richey “I joke about going to the pharmacy every month and getting my personality renewed,” chuckles Cliff Richey while speaking bright and early at the 2010 NAMI Convention one morning. Richey delighted attendees with a discourse of his life-long tennis career, including humorous personal stories involving legendary players, but his biggest challenge—his ultimate opponent—was clinical depression.

Richey possesses a confident eloquence that reflects his 13 years in recovery. He tried to self medicate with alcohol and valium prior to being diagnosed with depression. When his abuse got out of hand, he sought guidance from the Christian community. He recounted how his spirituality gave him the strength to reach recovery—to be the number one champion in life as he was in tennis. Richey does, however, have a bone to pick with his beloved church: the fact that medication is frowned upon. The antidepressants made such a huge impact on him that Richey claims “I don’t know what I would have done without medication.”

Richey was motivated to tell his story because he felt it would be a motivator to help others. He knows two things in life really well: tennis and depression. He has been competitive in not only his sport, but in his disease. When Richey was at his sickest, he tried to educate himself on anything that would give him intellectual hope, not emotional hope, because he felt that that was asking too much. “Your intellect can still know that there is hope.” He wanted to tell his story because he knows there is hope.

In April of this year, Richey published his first memoir, Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion’s Toughest Match. The champion was eager to admit that he had help from his illuminating daughter Hillaire Richey Kallendorf in authoring this journey to recovery. The memoir is a first-hand account of Richey’s life and tennis career, allowing us to see his challenges both on and off of the tennis court. Depression has been a recurring illness in Richey’s life, from his family’s history to the stressors of his professional tennis career to the actual depression. Richey gives hope to not only those who face depression, but also to those who face the challenges of everyday life as well. He is not only a tennis champion, but a champion to everyone living with mental illness.

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