By Jenny Sherman
With a self-effacing manner and maturity beyond his years, Ben Hietala candidly and bravely opens up about what brought him to Paradigm Malibu, the life-changing experience it was, and what’s down the road for him.
“I was kind of a hometown hero,” he says with timidity. Growing up in a quaint town in Montana, Ben’s soccer accomplishments put him on that small, rural map, giving him a household name– a name that people in his town knew and respected. He was named Montana’s Gatorade Player of the Year, but instead of resting on his laurels, he kept pushing ahead and challenging himself as a center forward, or “striker,” in his fast paced game.
Ben Hietala noted his new role brought higher standards to measure up to and added stressors. He felt an overwhelming sense of pressure to perform well, and most of that pressure came from within. “I put on a mask a lot of the time,” he reflects. “So I’d appear to be doing fine.” And things in his life were indeed fine upon first glance. “I got good grades, I was doing well in soccer… I was very sociable.” But in stark contrast to all the good in his life, was an intense personal struggle—one that didn’t leave him feeling fine at all. “At the end of the day,” he says, “When I was alone, I didn’t care about myself and I didn’t take care of myself.”
Ben Hietala was experiencing something that highly regarded teen athletes often face, but the outside world rarely sees: depression, a sense of despair with no way out, and overwhelming pressure leading to a crippling state of anxiety. Ben’s depression worsened, and suicidal thoughts began to enter his psyche. He knew he had to seek help, and his family was right on board with him, helping him find Paradigm Malibu and the specialized treatment he needed. “When I decided to take the time to focus on my depression, I wanted to find an option that would allow me to stay physically active. While in treatment, early morning workouts on the beach, basketball, and other physical activities helped to keep that side of me happy,” Ben says. To deal with his depression, one-on-one therapy sessions were instrumental in his recovery. “[The sessions] helped me learn how to cope with my depression and with my negative thoughts, and be able to reframe that into positive thinking. So that’s really beneficial for soccer, school and just handling relationships on and off the field.”
Seeking treatment can be an incredibly difficult thing to do—especially for someone who is in the spotlight and seen as a golden boy. People expect certain things of them, and there are fears of disappointing others or of living with a stigma. Ben acknowledges that there were questions being asked back at home regarding his whereabouts. Instead of letting that get to him, he embraces his Paradigm experience and is a proud alumnus of the program. “I’m kind of eager to share my story with people,” Ben says. “Hopefully, I can help younger people out who have the same issues as me. Depression and suicidal ideation are pretty common, and I’d love to share my story with people who could really learn from it as well.” When asked if he has any goals of going pro one day, Ben says, “I would love to. Some of the players from my team have gone pro, so I think it’s a possibility.”
After leaving Paradigm, Ben Hietala feels like he has a new lease on life—he is ready to handle the rigors of academic life, and soccer, and now knows how to balance the two. Ben has gone back to school, back to his life with the necessary tools to navigate through it—smoothly this time. Ben says that Paradigm has taught him many things, including how to trust himself. “A big part of it is trusting that the negative thoughts will always pass,” he says, adding, “a technique I’ve learned is to kind of take a step back, take some deep breaths, switch your location. So if you’re inside, go outside, take a few breaths and rethink [the situation] with a more rational side that recognizes the emotional side as well.” At Paradigm, they call that technique the “wise mind.” It’s “recognizing the emotional and rational mind, and finding that in-the-middle decision that satisfies both,” Ben explains. He has definitely got a wise head on his shoulders and a bright future ahead of him—pro soccer player… or anything else that inspires and reinforces his positive ideations.