Professional athletes fear being seen as weak if they speak up about mental health issues, but they're not superheroes.
The NBA is leading the way in a mental health movement within the sporting world. Athletes such as Kevin Love want to create a better environment around mental health
Exacerbating mental health concerns in the NBA is the fact that 22 teams have headed to Walt DisneyLand Resort to finish the season inside "the bubble": the 220-acre ESPN sports complex that will be the home to NBA crew and teams over the next few months in order to finish the season with minimal exposure to the public.
With some athletes voicing concerns over having to live in isolation away from family and loved ones for possibly months, the NBA has reportedly put an emphasis on mental health and making resources available to the teams inside the bubble.
William Parham, director of the NBA's mental health program, said, "[This season] is going to leave the guys with a lot of time on their own, and challenges with families, newborns and whatever else they have going on in their personal lives are going to be magnified because they're going to be in confined spaces for prolonged periods of time."
The NBA's emphasis on mental wellness during playoffs shows their efforts in ramping up mental health awareness, something they have been proactively encouraging the last few years.
During this year's ESPY awards on ESPN, Kevin Love received the prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award in recognition of his continued efforts in mental health awareness. The following day, Love's foundation donated $500,000 to UCLA's psychology department. In a statement, Love said, "I hope one day we are able to erase the stigma around mental illness, starting with public conversations around mental health and encouraging people to seek help when they need it, followed by research, action, and change."
Love has had a huge role in facilitating the NBA on improving their policies and stance on mental health. Beginning with his candid personal essay in March 2018, Everyone Is Going Through Something, in which he opened up about his anxiety and panic attacks, Love's called attention to the stigma around discussing mental health issues, especially regarding men.
When the Cavaliers played a home game against the Atlanta Hawks in November 2018, Love suffered from a bad anxiety attack that put him out of the game during the third quarter. According to Love, the most shocking reaction he had after he realized what was wrong was not the attack by itself, but the way he may be viewed by his teammates if they found out what had happened. His greatest fear was that others would think less of him.
Many other NBA athletes have followed Love's example and opened up about their own struggles with mental health. Demar DeRozan, Trae Young, and Kelly Oubre Jr. are just a few current all-stars who have shared their own experiences.
Just a few months after Love's story was published, ex-NBA all-star, Keyon Dooling, published his own essay for The Players Tribune describing his experience getting the mental help he needed after spending 25 years of his life hiding that he had been sexually assaulted at the age of 7.
The number of high-profile NBA stars opening up about their own mental health stories helped the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) to develop a first-of-its-kind initiative among national sports leagues: a mental health wellness program, which was adapted in May of 2018.
The program's mission is to facilitate balance between athletes' mental and personal health. The NBA also created new rules and guidelines for teams regarding mental health for the 2019-20 season. Teams are now required to have at least one mental health professional on as a full-time staff member. Each team is also required to have a written plan in place for mental health emergencies, along with confidentiality and privacy agreements for all athletes.
Athletes are often held to infeasible standards. They are under constant pressure to "be the best." But they are not superheroes; they are just as prone to mental health issues as anyone else.
One common factor amongst these NBA stars is the fear of being seen as weak. Hopefully, with more and more athletes sharing their personal mental health struggles, the stigma associated with discussing it will fade away.