Michael Oher, Who Inspired Blind Side, Opens Up About Mental Health: I'm 'Still Dealing with Trauma'
Michael Oher tells PEOPLE about turning to therapy and helping others after his NFL career and The Blind Side
Twelve years after the release of the Oscar-nominated film about his life, The Blind Side, retired pro football player Michael Oher is opening up about his continued healing from a difficult childhood.
Before his success in the NFL, the 2013 Super Bowl champion, 34, experienced poverty and homelessness in his home state of Tennessee. After time in and out of foster homes as his mother battled addiction, Oher was eventually adopted as a teen by the Tuohy family. His story of defying the odds became the inspiration for 2009's The Blind Side.
In the present day, Oher is finding personal growth through therapy and dedicating his time to helping others.
"I'm still traumatized and I still deal with things that I dealt with as a kid," Oher tells PEOPLE. "If you're still dealing with trauma, [therapy] is definitely needed early on, because I had to do that to get back healthy."
The offensive lineman believes putting off unpacking the difficulties from his childhood could have been detrijmental to his mental health journey. He advocates for others to seek the help they need, without shame.
"The mind is the most powerful thing and it has to be healthy to be successful," says Oher. "I bottled so much stuff up throughout my life. I carried that with me and I think it hurt me in the long run. That may be the only thing holding you back from being where you want to be — talking to somebody."
Oher also notes that he knows the importance of daily necessities like clothing and food in order for mental health to thrive. Getting the resources he needed from his adoptive family helped him to begin to heal.
"When I started to see that I had two or three pair of shoes to wear to school and I had multiple pants, my mental health started getting stronger," says Oher. "I could focus on school, and my grades started to go up. I was eating, so I could focus on other things rather than being hungry, that's when I really started to excel. I started to create that path because I didn't have the small things to worry about and it all came from help. It all came from help from other people and other resources and without that, I wouldn't be here."
The former athlete is now returning the favor though his new app, Good Deeds.
The app allows for neighbors to connect and give material items like clothes, shoes, and more to members of the community that are in need. By creating a profile, users on the app can post what they can give or request what they need, then the app will connect those that crossover.
"I thought back to when I was coming up, how I was going to Goodwill and I didn't have $2 or $3 to buy a pair of socks, some shorts, t-shirts — I just didn't have 50 cents to my name," the former Baltimore Ravens player says. "I thought, I've got to come up with something that can bridge the gap between the people that are in need, and people who are really wanting to give."
After seeing his community devastated by a series of destructive and fatal tornadoes in Nashville last year, Oher says that he was further inspired to create Good Deeds.
"I was watching the news and so many bottles of water got left in a warehouse. Supplies never got to the people," recounts Oher. "I would donate stuff all the time to the shelters, the thrift store, things like that and it just got me thinking. I'm donating all this money and I don't know if it's going to the people that are in need."
Creating Good Deeds is just one of the many ways Oher is giving back. He has also dedicated his time to volunteering at foster care organizations, as well created his own foundation, Beat the Odds, Inc., which is dedicated to "helping kids from hard places achieve their dreams."
"There are so many other people out there like me, so I have an obligation to continue to show them the way in," says Oher. "People are struggling and it's my job to let them know that, 'Hey, I know the road so we can get there together.' So that's the thing that keeps me going every day."
Oher is also the author of the New York Times best-selling book, I Beat The Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond and plans on releasing another book next year on mental health and healing.
Oher says he continues to feel gratitude for the life he has now, and his ability to overcome obstacles on the road to happiness.
"I'm thankful for what I've created now," says Oher. "The things that were against me, I can look back and say, 'I proved them all wrong.' And now I can show other people who are like me coming up, I can pull them along and continue to reach back. ... I like giving credit to everybody that was involved because I couldn't have done it alone."
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