Breaking The Mental Health Stigma

This past NBA season was memorable for many reasons. From Kyrie Irving wanting to be out of LeBron James’ shadow in Cleveland, the “Process” in Philadelphia starting to play out, memorable seven game series in the playoffs, LeBron James reaching his eighth consecutive finals, and the Warriors securing their spot in NBA history with their third championship in four years. However, the biggest news of the season happened off-the-court and made waves throughout the NBA and sports as a whole – that of mental health awareness.

It all started with a February Tweet by newly-acquired San Antonio Spurs shooting guard and former Toronto Raptors star, DeMar DeRozan (below).

While these seven words were based off song lyrics, DeRozan opened up to Doug Smith of the Toronto Star about his struggles with depression. In doing so, he became the face of the mental health movement for professional athletes and broke the stigma that professional athletes are these invincible warriors who don’t face the problems of everyday people.

A few weeks later, another NBA star opened up about his own struggles with mental health issues. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love penned a first-person account for The Players’ Tribune revealing his bout with panic attacks and how “for 29 years, I [Love] thought about mental health as someone else’s problem.” Shortly after Love, Kelly Oubre, Jr. of the Washington Wizards opened up his battle with depression, anxiety and his own battles with mental health.

These announcements made headlines in all industries, and brought mental health awareness to the forefront. The Tweet replies and feedback was overwhelming. People of all ages were responding with their support and thanking these high-profile athletes for having the courage to talk about these taboo issues. The NBA even announced a partnership with leading mindfulness app Headspace to provide training and resources to league and team staff, signifying a shift to the health of mental health awareness.

The Phoenix Suns were at the forefront of innovation in terms of awareness and emphasis placed on mental health awareness. VIKTRE Influencer Darlene Santore (@TheCoachDar) was brought on board as the Suns’ Life, Leadership and Mental Edge coach to help Suns players on the mental side of the game. In a pre-game interview on Fox Sports, Coach Dar breaks down her role with the organization. Check out the video below:

By being around the team consistently at practices, shootaround and on road trips, having Coach Dar available to the players provides a level of comfort and trust in establishing open conversations. This is a key, as Kevin Love mentioned how having access to a therapist was monumental in his battles. He also mentioned how he had been thinking about how concerned he was with people finding out about his panic attack and that it would be perceived as weakness. However, this is quite the opposite. As Coach Dar says, opening up about your emotions is not weakness. It is courageousness.

She continues that there are three things to focus on to overcome some of these challenges:

  • Meditation
    • Find a way to be present in the moment.
  • Exercise
    • Both physical and mental.
  • Social Connection
    • Find people that lift you up. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone.

Mental health is something that we should all take seriously. With these athletes, and others, opening up about the challenges that they face, it shows that even those who seemingly have it all deal with these issues. As Kevin Love put it, “Mental health isn’t just an athlete thing. What you do for a living doesn’t have to define who you are. This is an everyone thing.”

If you’ve found yourself struggling with your mental health, or have any questions for Coach Dar, head to her website and submit them through one of the methods on her “Ask Coach Dar” page.

Follow Coach Dar!

Twitter: @TheCoachDar
Facebook: Darleen Santore
Instagram: @CoachDar

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