Mental Health in the NBA

The Needler

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Dec 7, 2016
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I don't think I've seen this specifically mentioned elsewhere, but Jackie Mac just concluded a 5-part series on espn.com concerning mental health in the NBA. Rather than try to jam it into a Fultz or Love, or Trae Young thread, I think it's worthy of its own thread.

We've talked quote a bit about this stuff, largely in the Fultz thread. In January, while Fultz was still missing, I wrote this:

And by the way, the reluctance many have here about "jumping to conclusions" or that the issue being psychological is a "hot take'" is the very reason we're likely not getting the truth about what's going on - the stigmatization of mental health issues. We're totally okay with believing in an injury (scapular imbalance) most of us had never heard of, and armchair hypothesizing about any other physical injury we suspect are bothering players, but the suggestion that he's suffering from an issue we have seen many times before (Rick Ankiel, Steve Sax, etc.) is a hot take because there's a value judgment associated with it.

A 19-year old with more pressure on his shoulders than 99% of us will experience in our lives might be having trouble dealing with it psychologically. Doesn't mean he's a bad kid, or that he's weak. But it's the most likely explanation here.
Part one is here. It's kind of an overall discussion of mental health issues in the league, and touches quite a bit on the continued stigmatization that may be preventing players from seeking help.

According to John Lucas, "It's an epidemic in our league," he says. "I'm talking about everything from ADHD to bipolar to anxiety and depression."

There's a lot to unpack, including the Kevin Love stuff about his panic attacks that has gotten a lot of attention. The Celtics and Ainge feature fairly prominently, unsuprisingly, both because of how forward-thinking the organization is, and MacMullen's proximity to the team. From part 5:

IN DANNY AINGE'S second season as a player for the Boston Celtics, he picked up a phone call from back home: His brother informed him that his mother, Kay, had taken her own life. While the news was devastating, it wasn't completely unforeseen. Kay had suffered from depression for more than a decade, and Ainge noticed as he reached his high school years that his mother was sleeping more during the day and becoming more withdrawn from the swirl of family activity. There is a feeling of helplessness when someone you love slips away, and often, survivors are left with residual guilt about what they could have done to change the outcome.

"That was a time in my life where I didn't receive help when I could have used some help," Ainge says. "I wished I had talked with a counselor to help me deal with it."

Ainge has spent years learning to detect red flags of mental health concerns, which include players being habitually late or missing practice. Instead of suspending players or fining them large sums of money, Ainge requires they attend mandatory sessions with a mental health professional of their choice. "But to be honest," the Celtics president of basketball operations says, "I haven't had much success sending someone to counseling who doesn't want to do it willingly."
Jackie also implies Fultz's issues are partially if not wholly mental in part 1:

Fultz's mindset became clearer after he posted this on Instagram in July: "Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are not a sign of weakness. They are signs of having tried to remain strong for so long. 1 in 3 of us go through depression, anxiety or panic attacks at least once in our lifetime. Would you share this on your wall for at least one day? Most people won't. To those who do -- thanks for sharing the support. Let those who struggle know they are not alone."
I'm not so sure her conclusion is airtight. Of course, Fultz could simply be following the instructions of that kind of social media chain letter and showing support for others. But I did think it was worthy of a mention because I hadn't seen that post.