The Importance of Mental Health Wellness in the NBA
Mental Health. These two words hold so much importance in them, yet so many fail to recognize that each and every one of us is affected by mental health. Yes, every one of us. Some of us might be completely mentally healthy and don’t suffer from any mental ailments, yet we know someone that is affected by mental health issues that range from depression and anxiety to more complex illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Some of us are those people affected themselves.
There are many stigmas surrounding mental health wellness and false stereotypes of the type of person who is struggling. For instance, most would think a talented, wealthy, famous basketball star has the perfect life and could never suffer from any of the aforementioned conditions; yet many fail to realize that their favorite basketball players are human. They suffer like the rest of us and the fact that the play a sport doesn’t change their brain chemistry.
NBA Cares and Mind Health
Several NBA players have bravely come forward about their mental health wellness struggles and the NBA, recognizing the stigma and need for awareness and assistance, developed the “Mind Health” program. Mind Health was developed under their parent program, NBA Cares. NBA Cares states: “NBA Cares is the league’s global social responsibility program that builds on the NBA’s mission of addressing important social issues in the United States and around the world.” NBA Cares programs include Hoops for Troops, NBA FIT, NBA Green, NBA Math Hoops, NBA Voices, and NBA Mind Health.
Mind Health strives to promote healthy minds and increase awareness surrounding emotional wellness by providing many resources on the NBA Cares website. The resources emphasize taking care of oneself, teammates and those in the community. Mind Health explains a commitment to being healthy in body and mind can support mental wellness,
Managing stress, being a great teammate and letting those who surround you know that you care about them are also keys to achieving mental health and emotional wellness. Mind Health provides resources for youth, parents, and coaches and has paired up with findyourwords.org to provide helpful links about helping others, resilience, places to find support, and childhood mental health support.
Additional Care for Mental Health Wellness in the NBA
In addition to the resources found on the NBA Cares website, the league also expanded its programs for mental health awareness and treatments for the players. The league instituted its own mental health and wellness program which connects players with licensed mental health professionals. These professionals are separate from the league and the player association. However, the player association also provides a website with links and resources regarding depression, anxiety, and phobias that only players have access to.
The league also adopted new rules in September and hosted a mandatory health and wellness meeting in which formal mental health and wellness requirements were set. In addition to the aforementioned programs introduced in May, the league mandated at least one full-time licensed mental health professional (a psychologist or behavioral specialist) to their full-time staff and must retain a licensed psychiatrist to assist when needed. The teams also have a written action plan in case of a mental health emergency and also have a plan in place to inform the players and staff their privacy is of the upmost importance.
NBA Players Speak of Mental Health Wellness Problems and the Stigma
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has taken particular interest in the league being a provider of mental health wellness assistance and awareness programs after several current and former players spoke out about their own struggles with issues such as anxiety, depression and phobias.
Kevin Love suffered a panic attack in 2017 that sent him to the hospital during a game against the Atlanta Hawks because Love was struggling to breathe and his heart was racing, but the doctors said he was fine. Love spoke out about his panic attack to bring light to the mental health wellness of players in the NBA. Keyon Dooling and Demar DeRozan have also used their platforms to speak out about the importance of mental health awareness and treatment after admitting they too faced problems with anxiety and depression.
Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks has also described his feelings of inadequacy and the overwhelming responsibilities that come with being a “star” basketball player. Young faced constant criticism in his college years, even being taunted with pictures of birds as he is fearful of winged animals, and the criticism continued into his rookie year in the NBA. However, Young has support in Atlanta that wasn’t offered to basketball players of previous generations and his coaching staff is working with him to make sure the outpouring of negativity doesn’t affect his mental well-being.
This year Young is thriving for the Hawks, but still receives negative light and has felt one of the best ways to deal with the demons of social media armchair coaches is to refrain from going on social media sites and focus on more important things.
Mental Health Affects Everyone
The stigma surrounding mental health issues isn’t unique to basketball players. The mental health community as a whole is trying to remove the stigma that comes with suffering from mental health problems; especially for African American males, who statistically reach out for help less than their white counterparts. The message that the National Center for Mental Health conveys is that it’s “okay to not be okay”. They also state that anxiety, depression, and other mental health illnesses do not discriminate. One’s race, gender, class status, or even being a famous athlete doesn’t determine one’s mental well-being. It is entirely possible to be rich, famous, and seemingly have everything figured out, yet still face mental health demons just like those who aren’t in the limelight on a regular basis.
The National Basketball Association is a front runner in mental health awareness and treatment amongst the sporting leagues. Silver strives to continue to keep the dialogue open about the importance of mental wellness and providing the players with assistance, tools, and knowledge to face their problems, and reach out for help without shame. Players like Love, DeRozan, and Young who aren’t ashamed of their mental wellness issues also will continue to be monumental in the fight against mental illness stigma as more people realize that these problems can and do happen to everyone, including famous basketball athletes.