How One NBA Player Inspired Another To Open Up About His Struggles With Mental Health

A pair of NBA players are proving how much influence professional athletes can have on the discussion of important issues.

In our society, mental illness unfortunately still carries negative stigmas that can leave the people who live with it feeling alienated. As a result, people often avoid seeking treatment or asking for help. But the fact of the matter is that approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That’s 43.8 million, or 18.5 percent, of the U.S. population.

It’s become a major topic in recent years, with people from all walks of life, including celebrities like Demi Lovato, Emma Stone and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, opening up about their struggles with issues such as depression and anxiety. The latest wave of high-profile public figures to open up the conversation about mental health include NBA stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love.

demar derozan kevin love photo
Getty Images | Tom Szczerbowski

People look up to professional athletes as being the fittest, most indestructible people in the world. In fact, they’re often viewed more as machines than humans. They’re rich, famous and very successful in a demanding field. What the public often doesn’t see is their vulnerabilities or the fact that they’re human beings who feel loneliness, anxiety and depression just like anyone else.

All it took was one tweet on Feb. 17 from DeRozan, a guard for the Toronto Raptors, that stated, “This depression get the best of me…” That short statement opened the doors to a flood of support from fans who offered genuine concern and love for the player, no matter what he was going through.

Below are just a couple examples of the understanding and care elicited by DeRozan’s seven powerful words.

DeRozan’s tweet was posted in the middle of the night during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, which, for him, should have been a time of excitement and celebration. DeRozan, a Compton, California native, went to Compton High School and played one year at the University of Southern California before turning pro in 2009. In a subsequent interview with The Toronto Star, he bravely talked about his relationship with depression and anxiety.

“It’s one of them things that no matter how indestructible we look like we are, we’re all human at the end of the day,” the 28-year-old Raptors All-Star said. “We all got feelings… all of that. Sometimes… it gets the best of you, where times everything in the whole world’s on top of you… I stay standoffish in a sense, in my own personal space, to be able to cope with whatever it is you’ve got to cope with.”

demar derozan horizontal photo
Getty Images | Jonathan Daniel

The next NBA star to step up with his on story of mental health issues? Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. Inspired by DeRozan speaking out about how he copes with his day-to-day challenges, Love wrote a very personal essay for The Players’ Tribune on his own struggles, including a panic attack he had during a recent game.

“It really makes you think about how we are all walking around with experiences and struggles—all kinds of things—and we sometimes think we’re the only ones going through them,” Love wrote. “The reality is that we probably have a lot in common with what our friends and colleagues and neighbors are dealing with … Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of us at some point or another. It’s part of life. Like DeMar said, ‘You never know what that person is going through.'”

kevin love horizontal photo
Getty Images | Andy Lyons

After publishing his 2,300 word essay, Love invited readers to share their stories with him by emailing his Players’ Tribune account. A couple days after it was published, Love said he’d received more than 4,000 emails.

“I didn’t realize that the response would be like it was or like it is. It’s amazing what we’re able to do with this platform,” Love said during an interview with ESPN. “Everybody has things that you can’t see, that you can’t touch that they’re walking around with every day.”

Both DeRozan and Love have been met with overwhelming support by both fans and players, including from LeBron James who tweeted the message below in support of his Cavaliers teammate Love.

Love’s former teammate Channing Frye, currently with the Los Angeles Lakers, is another NBA player who has dealt with depression. He lost both of his parents at the end of 2016 within months of each other. After that, Frye chose to go public with his struggles in efforts to become comfortable telling and normalizing his story, according to a 2017 interview with Slam Online.

When asked whether he thought depression was common in the NBA, Frye said, “probably yeah,” adding, “there might be a bunch of guys that are depressed and they just don’t know it and deal with it in unhealthy ways.” During the recent All-Star weekend, Frye was a “sounding board” for Love.

channing frye lakers photo
Getty Images | Ron Jenkins

In the clip below, shared by the Raptors, DeRozan expressed how great it was to be able to encourage Love to pen his essay and also help others whom he may have inspired to talk about what they’re feeling.

Another NBA star, Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr., has since said he can relate to both Love and DeRozan’s stories. “I’m really good at keeping a poker face because when I was growing up my dad used to always tell me ‘Don’t let anybody see you weak.’ Nobody sees that I’m weak, but deep down inside I am going through a lot. Hell is turning over,” Oubre said on the Washington Wizards Tipoff podcast.

kelly oubre photo
Getty Images | Patrick Smith

Hopefully, with more public figures speaking out about mental health, the negative stigmas that have long been associated with those discussions can be eliminated from our culture. Do these stories of professional athletes opening up about their struggles inspire you to be more honest?