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Dustin Poirier implores fighters to seek mental health aid when depression seeps in: ‘Take care of yourself’

Stubbornness is a building block of a great fighter. Elite combat sports athletes develop absurd levels of self-belief to endure the physical and emotional demands of fighting. But when mental fortitude is the foundation of success, the line between mental health and mental weakness is blurred. Dustin Poirier can attest to this.

“We feel like it’s a weakness to admit we’re going through something or to seek help because things don’t feel right between our ears. It’s not [a weakness]. It really isn’t,” Poirier told CBS Sports ahead of his UFC 302 main event against Islam Makhachev. “You need to take care of yourself. Being prepared to fight and being your best, the mental space is part of that. It’s all connected. I went through a really down time where I was depressed and not in a good spot at all.”

A knockout loss to Justin Gaethje in July 2023 plunged Poirier into darkness. It’s a feeling most fighters can relate to, but one they’re reluctant to discuss. Last year, former UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski expressed feeling aimless between fights. Even an all-time great champion like Volkanovski seemed uncomfortable with the attention his vulnerability drew.

Poirier prioritized his mental health during the seven-month gap between his loss to Gaethje and his win over Benoit Saint Denis. It was a decision spurred by one of the few things more important to him than fighting, and one that is of great importance during Mental Health Awareness Month.

“I have a wife and daughter looking at me at home,” Poirier said. “I need to be there and be strong for them. So you put things into perspective. I’m thankful I talked to the people I did and I have good people surrounding me back home who care about me and really helped me get out of that place.”

Poirier is in a healthier place heading into what’s likely his last chance to become undisputed UFC lightweight champion. But the work is far from over. “The Diamond” knows he’ll never be a finished product.

“It’s not like it’s fixed,” Poirier said. “It’s not like you turn a key and a lock and it clicks and it’s done. It’s work every day. I have to practice this every single day. It’s not a one-time fix-all. I’m still dealing with it. I work through it every single day. 

“It comes at different times in different scenarios. Different levels of stress bring it out. Going through the repetitions and putting myself back in the right spot is something I practice every day.”

Check out the full interview with Dustin Poirier below.

Poirier will challenge for the undisputed UFC lightweight title for a third time on Saturday. Poirier confessed he doesn’t have it in him to work himself into this position a fourth time. In fact, he’s considering retiring win or lose at UFC 302. Poirier ranks among the greatest UFC fighters to never become undisputed champ. If that reputation holds on Sunday morning, it’s one he’s ready to welcome.

“The main stage spotlight feels the same but my mental space feels different…” Poirier said. “I have to do it this time because I’m not going to get another chance. It’s now or never. But I’m in a good mental spot. I’m grateful and starting to be content with my career and my legacy.”

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