The 23rd annual World Mental Health Day occurred this past week, where the promotion of mental health awareness was at the forefront of social media, broadcasts and almost all facets of news outlets.
While mental health was almost an afterthought in professional sports not too long ago, the stigma surrounding mental health issues has been significantly reduced over the last year alone. During NBA All-Star Weekend in February 2018, former Toronto Raptor and four time All-Star DeMar DeRozan tweeted out seven words that kickstarted mental health awareness in the NBA: “this depression got the best of me.”
It had been a tough year for DeRozan; both his parents were struggling with health issues, (DeRozan is a public advocate for Lupus, an autoimmune disease that his mother suffers from) and to top it all off, was recently traded to San Antonio — and heartbroken — from the city he called home. Many people showed concern for DeRozan, as he has publicly said numerous times he deals with depression.
Not even a month after the tweet, fellow All-Star Kevin Love put out an article on The Players’ Tribune, professing how he too suffers from mental health issues, and detailing a panic attack that he dealt with during a game earlier that season. He credits DeRozan for breaking the ice on the subject.
Many other people in the NBA community came forward with their struggles as well, including Kelly Oubre Jr, Ben Wallace, Tyronn Lue, even L.A. Lakers owner Jeanie Buss admitted she benefits from therapy. It’s not like this is a new problem; all of a sudden dozens of NBA players and executives have mental health problems? This has been an issue for many years, only now is the NBA taking action.
Royce White was the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. The Houston Rockets decided to take a risk on the former Iowa State Cyclone. Why was it a risk? White had an extreme case of anxiety. His anxiety was so bad that he could not travel by plane, which is a bit of an issue for a player on an NBA team. The Rockets and White had many meetings, with White saying that neither the Rockets or the NBA had a proper mental health protocol, and had no support system to help him. White played a total of nine minutes in the NBA.
The NBA has come a long way since then; commissioner Adam Silver met with DeRozan last season to discuss the issue, and has since put many mental health programs into place to help those who struggle with their mental health. The NBA now offers free mental health training to all NBA employees, which will eventually trickle down into programs like NBA Fit and Jr. NBA in order to reach kids who may struggle with similar problems.
For many it came as a shock to see all these professional basketball players share their own struggles. For some, the thought of young athletes who are living out their childhood dreams – not to mention excelling at it — and getting paid nine digits to play the game they love are suffering from depression is unfathomable. What do they have to be depressed about? They are among the best athletes in the world, make millions of dollars, have national fame, what can be bad?
Love reminds us, “mental health isn’t just an athlete thing. What you do for a living doesn’t have to define who you are. This is an everyone thing.”