Mental health is a challenging subject to discuss openly, particularly when you’re a high-profile athlete or celebrity whose livelihood depends, at least somewhat, on public perception. This week Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic published a lengthy piece [subscription required] on the NBA and their efforts to demystify and destigmatize mental health struggles.
Vorkunov argues that the NBA is at the forefront of professional sports leagues in making mental health not just a priority, but a discussion-worthy subject. His argument centers around a meeting held in Manhattan this week, wherein league officials, mental health organization representatives, and professionals in the field discussed the issue as it relates to professional athletes.
Among the prominent participants was former Portland Trail Blazers guard, and current Players’ Union President, CJ McCollum. Vorkunov quotes McCollum talking about the difficulties associated with even admitting mental health challenges as a professional athlete and how he hopes the story is changing:
“I think it’s more so our communities; the communities that a lot of us come from,” McCollum said. “Black communities have historically been hesitant — and most communities have historically been hesitant — to speak to people about their problems in general from a comfort standpoint. But I think a lot of people are doing it and a lot of people are talking about it and slowly more professional athletes are beginning to speak out about the fact that they are seeking help and that it’s been helpful and beneficial to their lifestyle, their career and what they want to accomplish on and off the floor.“But I think there is an uptick in people not only talking about it — hence the conversation today — but people using it. You just aren’t hearing about it as often, right? You hear stories here or there but then if you ask the locker room, you know that more guys are doing it now (and) becoming more comfortable with sharing.”
McCollum also points out the importance of opening up the subject to create peer support and access to experts, massive steps forward for communities dealing with heretofore taboo subjects:
“I think it’s extremely important because we go through all these emotions of the game and our life that sometimes we don’t know how to deal with it,” he said. “If you’re the first generation millionaire — some of us are the first generation millionaires — or you’re the first generation graduated from college, whatever the case may be, I’m a professional athlete. No one’s ever experienced that before, so they don’t know what comes with it. So who do you talk to you about your issues, if no one can relate to the issues?“I think sometimes your thoughts are right, sometimes your thoughts aren’t, and being able to talk to a professional, gives you advice, but also can be a roadmap or guide
The article is well worth a read, and props to the NBA for normalizing mental/emotional health as part of the overall professional experience.