Sports Stars Open Up About Mental Health Challenges

Sports Stars Open Up About Mental Health Challenges

Sports Stars Open Up About Mental Health Challenges

When it comes to professional sports, talk is usually focused on performance stats, injuries and other game-related topics. Rarely is emotional well-being part of the discussion. But several NBA stars have opened up about their struggles with issues like depression and anxiety—a brave move in a culture that still tends to stigmatize mental health issues.

An article on the NBA’s website focused on three star players: DeMar DeRosen, Kevin Love and Kelly Oubre Jr. The players all expressed hope that bringing the conversation about mental health into the open would help remove some of the stigma.

DeRosen had sent out a tweet about his depression, and he was very moved by the public’s reaction: “The response I got from people was so uplifting, positive, refreshing,” says DeRosen. “It’s crazy. But it made me feel good. You just look at certain things. People say ‘you helped me. Because if you’re going through something like this, I can get through it.’ It’s incredible.”

Kevin Love, who has openly discussed his panic attacks and subsequent therapy, wrote: “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.” 

While some athletes fear that others may think that, because they make a lot of money, they have no right to complain, sports psychologist Brent Walker wrote: “The reality is that professional athletes are not different,” Walker said. “Everyone has their struggles regardless of what it looks like on the outside. We all have stuff we have to deal with. Where it gets different and difficult for the professional athletes is that it’s worst in a team sport in that, ‘I can’t let anybody know. I’ve got to be a man [or woman]. I can’t let anyone know there’s something wrong with me.’ ”

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center Executive Director Andrew Malekoff was an athlete in high school and college, and he echoes the idea that players at any level fear letting down their teammates. “One of the stresses I dealt with all the time was playing with injuries and not letting anyone know how much pain I was in, physically and emotionally,” he says. “It was as if my sense of worth was only a function of my performance.”

So, what does this mean to a child or teen athlete? The reality is that, starting at a very young age, many kids are often still taught to “suck it up” and play regardless of their physical or emotional state. That has to change.

“The fact that some of their heroes are speaking out about their battles with issues like anxiety and depression is a huge step in making it acceptable to discuss mental health issues,” says Malekoff. “Parents can also make a big difference by making sure their kids hear about these stories, so if they’re feeling emotionally vulnerable, they can know that they have nothing to be ashamed of and that it’s OK to seek out help.”

In addition, be sure that you demonstrate your pride in your child no matter how well they perform in a game. Point out what they do right and leave the coaching to the coaches.

To read more about athletes who’ve opened up about their mental health challenges, see