After NBA All Stars Speak Out On Mental Health Issues, League Finally Takes Action

By Victoria Kim 03/21/18

The NBA is planning a new and improved program to focus on mental health, a subject that was previously overlooked in the league.

Kevin Love
NBA All Star Kevin Love wrote a candid piece about anxiety and mental health for The Players Tribune Photo via YouTube

As more players speak up about personal struggles, the NBA has decided to improve its mental health treatment offerings.

Recently Kevin Love, Channing Frye, and DeMar DeRozan opened up about living with depression, anxiety and panic attacks. While mental health services has been available for all players, there is no singular resource or policy regarding players who need mental health support.

The NBA is now developing a better mental health program for players, that will function under a new director of health and wellness.

Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, emphasized the importance of ensuring players’ confidentiality.

“Our position is none of our players’ business is the team’s business as long as they perform,” she said, according to ESPN.

While some team owners may feel entitled to information about players’ health, it shouldn’t matter for the most part, said Roberts.

“Every team has an interest in knowing about the well-being of their players both in terms of their physical and mental health. We understand that. But that does not mean the players’ privacy can be waived or compromised. Now, if a player is unable to perform because of his issues, that opens up a different discussion.”

Jeanie Buss, the controlling owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, has no problem with confidentiality—this is standard for the Lakers, who have a partnership with UCLA in providing mental health services. “[The players] have to feel their conversations will be private,” said Buss. “They need to feel safe about going outside the team to find solutions.”

Former NBA player Larry Sanders, who quit the league in 2015 at 26 years old, is a perfect example of why there’s a need for a better approach to mental health. Sanders was penalized for violating the league’s drug policy, for marijuana use, but said he was self-medicating for his anxiety and depression.

“It was very frustrating,” he said. “They were dealing with the byproduct [marijuana], not the issue. There was lots of chastising for the byproduct instead of digging in and investigating the cause.”

After he quit the league, Sanders received mental health treatment at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Wisconsin.

The NBA’s new and improved mental health program will exist separately from the league’s drug policy, to remove any punitive element that may deter players from seeking help. Sanders said he feels like “we’re finally going in the right direction.”

Sanders illustrated why mental health can be trickier to notice, acknowledge, and get help for.

“Part of the problem is, you can’t see it. If you have a sprained ankle, there it is. It’s swollen, black and blue. I can watch it heal; I know when I’m ready to go again,” he said. “But when you have something wrong emotionally, you can’t see it, can’t pinpoint it, so it makes it harder to treat it.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr