Wizards players express support for mental health and wellness initiative

On Tuesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA executive director Michelle Roberts sent a letter to every NBA player highlighting each athlete’s power to make a difference in the world. The letter offered continued support and resources for community efforts and personal development.

Within that personal development and one of the main points of the letter is an enhanced mental health program. Silver and Roberts emphasized in the letter that addressing mental health or asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. In the past year, mental health in the NBA has become a much more discussed topic after multiple players came forward about their own struggles.

Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan spoke at length to the Toronto Star about having depression and anxiety after sending a tweet in February. Cavaliers forward/center Kevin Love made waves shortly after with his March letter on The Players Tribune regarding his panic attack during a November game and battles with anxiety. Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. told NBC Sports Washington about his own experiences with mental health. Even Cleveland head coach Tyronn Lue disclosed to ESPN that he was dealing with anxiety during the 2017-18 season.

Love recently launched the Kevin Love Fund, prioritizing mental health. DeRozan and Love were both heavily featured in a video from the NBA and a mental health series by ESPN. Oubre hasn’t spoken much about the issue since, but he was open to talking about the NBA and NBPA prioritizing mental health.

“We just have to continue to help each other, and that’s what the NBA is doing,” Oubre said on the Off The Bench podcast. “That’s what great, stand up guys like DeMar and Kevin Love are doing, trying to use their voice and their platform to help people who go through the same things that we go through who just don’t have the voice.”

“[The league and NBPA’s response] has been great, obviously we can’t compare the average human being to an NBA player because the things we go through are 10 times more magnified. But all we can do – we have to endear that pain. It’s not like we can go through something off the court, and then not be able to come to the game the next day and not perform. We still have to come and show our face, and you guys are watching us. The people who are just watching us and we have a bad game, you don’t really know what’s going on in the deeper side of our mental.”

Other Wizards players applauded Love, DeRozan, and Oubre for coming forward and showing the impact that they can have on people who may be struggling. John Wall mentioned the human factor – that even NBA players can have anxiety and depression.

“I think it was great because I try to tell people all of the time that just because we make all of this money or get to play the game we love at the highest level doesn’t mean we live a perfect life,” Wall said. “We are normal people; we just have an opportunity to play the game we love, to make money, and live a lifestyle that a lot of people want to, but that doesn’t make everything great. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand, we wake up and go through the same problems everybody else goes through.”

“We might be able to solve those problems a little bit easier, but depression and those types of things – you can’t solve them just by waking up. You have to go through it and it’s tough, but I think those people coming out and expressing themselves and feeling comfortable in their own skin opened eyes for other people out here. All it takes is one person.”

Jason Smith, the Wizards' NBPA representative, spoke about the negative impact of social media. Nowadays, athletes are already playing under immense pressure, and comments on social media can only make it worse.

“We’re in the age of social media; players have this high expectation from ownership and coaches and what not,” Smith explained. “And we know that we’re the upper echelon, world-caliber athletes. When you add in Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, all of this social media stuff, and you feel comfortable putting out pictures of your family or yourself having fun or what you like to do, and then people just crush you on social media, that doubt creeps in for these world class athletes. You think we are just supermen, but in reality, the words that are said on social media – some people read them, some people don’t – but when you do see it, you’re like ‘dang.’

“The mental health aspect – I think there’s a lot of undiagnosed issues of depression out there,” Smith continued. “But how do you diagnose it if you’re not going to come forward with it. It’s tough. It’s a very slippery slope, but you just have to deal with it the best way that you can individually. At the end of the day, we’re all human, we’re all human beings. I think it’s something that needs to be talked about and will continue to be talked about.”

A high school student who Bradley Beal mentors recently reached out to him because he was feeling depressed. Beal texted with him and made sure he was there for him, knowing the impact he has on younger generations like this.

“I think it’s important for everybody to understand that that’s not an embarrassing feeling to have,” Beal said. “That’s something you should take very seriously. And I feel like that’s something you have to get off your chest. You can’t bottle that up because you’re the only person dealing with it. I’m even here to let people know that if you want to just talk to me about it, I can help any way that I can."

Ultimately, the progress that DeRozan, Love, Oubre, and others have made about mental health is a big step in the right direction. Using their platform and reaching people who may be struggling can go a long way. Their efforts are being felt around the league as well, with players opening up about their willingness to use their position to help others.

“I feel like us having a voice and our brand,” Beal said, “and having guys like Kelly, DeMar, and K-Love all come out and speak about it, that helps younger kids, younger generations, and even adults who may be going through it to seek help in the best way possible. I’m definitely happy for Kells [Oubre] for doing that, being his teammate and knowing how hard he works.”

“It’s a blessing to have to people to lean on and people to be there to help you go through things that you don’t expect other people to understand,” Oubre said. “I’m here, if anybody needs help, I definitely understand.”

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