NBA Stars Join Discussion On Mental Health

Mental health can be a touchy and intricate subject for a lot of people, and for good reason—it’s a scary daily occurrence to think about. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults in the United States are experiencing symptoms associated with a mental illness on an everyday basis, which is a shocking number to say the least. Concerns regarding someone’s mental health has historically been an underrated problem to address. However, the tide has been changing on that front, in terms of nationwide publicity and exposure. 

In the recent weeks, public figures have emerged in the marketplace of ideas to spread societal awareness around mental health, and they have appeared from unexpected sources. NBA basketball players DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love have gone public with their own challenges against anxiety and depression, and this has generated immense national discussion about the everyday conflicts of mental health. Depression is seen as the number one worldwide cause of disability (as well as a major contributor to the onset of disease), affecting an estimated 16 million people across the country. On the other hand, anxiety disorders are calculated as the nation’s most common mental illness, as approximately 42 million American adults suffer from the associated symptoms. In accordance with the displayed evidence, it is obvious that struggling with mental health is not a rare event. 

If you’re someone that feels sad, lonely, distressed, restless or nervous in regular episodic incidents, rest assured that you’re not alone. Everyone’s got their own problems, even professional millionaire athletes.

DeRozan, a 28-year-old from Compton, California, was the one that started it all, when he sent out a cryptic message on Twitter while at this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, and it immediately grabbed the basketball world’s attention.

In a time that should have been an enduring homecoming of sorts for DeRozan and his family, a sudden moment of depression overcame him during the course of one lonely night. In an out-of-character move for the NBA All-Star, DeRozan decided to protrude through his quiet and shy persona, to share his insecurities to the public. Afterwards, a perfect storm of support was sent DeRozan’s way.

Quickly thereafter, DeRozan disclosed his own personal trials and tribulations in an article with the Toronto Star last month. In the writing piece, the Toronto Raptors superstar spoke in-length about the public’s perception of professional athletes, who are often symbolically portrayed as superheroes in a way. Through the mask of eternal fame, fortune and glory, athletes are showcased as almighty deities with fantastical abilities (to a certain extent), instead of just human beings with genuine emotions. DeRozan hoped that by humanizing his story, athletes like him can be seen less as brands or symbols, and more as people with feelings just like everybody else.

“It's one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we're all human at the end of the day,” he said. “We all got feelings ... all of that. Sometimes ... it gets the best of you, where times everything in the whole world is on top of you. That’s why I look at every person I encounter the same way. I don’t care who you are. You can be the smallest person off the street or you could be the biggest person in the world, I’m going to treat everybody the same, with respect.”

DeRozan’s stance on mental health inspired many words of sympathy and understanding among other players, coaches, administrators, journalists and fans alike. Shortly after DeRozan’s declaration, Love wrote an essay in The Players’ Tribune about his difficulties with mental health, citing a panic attack that he suffered during a regular season against the Atlanta Hawks earlier this year. 

“It was like my body was trying to say to me, ‘You’re about to die,’” he wrote. “It came out of nowhere. I’d never had one before. I didn’t even know if they were real. But it was real - as real as a broken hand or a sprained ankle. Since that day, almost everything about the way I think about my mental health has changed.”

The onset of Love’s panic attack seemed to be attributed from a variety of factors, including the death of his grandmother (along with other familial problems), his recent lack of sleep, as well as his team’s rough 4-5 record to start the season. Following this incident that left him gasping for air, lying on the ground in the Cavaliers’ locker room, desperately hoping that his heart rate would go back down, Love had an epiphany regarding his outlook on mental health, as well as how it has impacted his life.

“For 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem,” he wrote. “Everyone is going through something that we can’t see. The thing is, because we can’t see it, we don’t know who’s going through what and we don’t know when and we don’t always know why. Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of us at some point or another. It’s part of life. 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. No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside. Not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need."

Both DeRozan and Love highlighted on the massive toll that bottling up emotions can have on a person. In the hopes of creating a better mental health environment, honest communication with one another is the main step. Burying away stress can take years off someone’s life, so being open with one another is integral. We all have our own conflicts that arise, and our own demons that need to be defeated, so the overlying focus should be to remain conversational with one another, and to be willing to listen whenever the time comes.

“You get to a certain age where you feel like it’s all about helping others,” DeRozan in an interview with ESPN. “It’s not about you just being a selfish person about the things you’re going through. Other people are going through stuff as well. If you can share that and put that on the forefront, it can help somebody. Whether it’s one person, a hundred, a thousand. I just finally got to that point where it was time for me to say something.”