What Happens When Celebrities Talk About Mental Illness
There’s recently been an incredible chain reaction that inspired millions: A connection between three men who never dreamed they had something so personal in common.
I heard about it one day in March after presenting NAMI Ending the Silence (ETS) at a local high school. When I got home, my husband asked if I'd heard the big news about Cleveland Cavaliers NBA All-Star Kevin Love having panic attacks. I hadn't, so I Googled his name and was amazed at what I found. Love wrote a captivating and honest personal essay for The Players' Tribune titled “Everyone Is Going Through Something.” He said it was hard for him to speak out; he didn’t find it easy to open up about his feelings.
Love said he had a panic attack during a game on Nov. 5, 2017. His heart raced, he couldn't catch his breath and everything was spinning. He went to the locker room and ended up lying on his back, gasping for air. He thought he might die. He said, “In the NBA, you have trained professionals to fine-tune your life in so many areas. But none of those people could help me in the way I needed when I was lying on the floor struggling to breathe.”
Love was afraid people would find out. He went to a therapist, something he never thought he'd do. He said the biggest lesson for him was confronting the fact that he even needed help.
One of the reasons Love decided to write his story was because another NBA All-Star player inspired him. On Feb. 17, 2018, DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors tweeted in the middle of the night: “This depression gets the best of me.” DeRozan, who says he's a quiet and private person, received an outpouring of support on social media. DeRozan said that the ripple effect of his interview about depression has been one of the most incredible things he's ever witnessed.
It's a chain reaction. When one person speaks out, their story touches thousands of others. There's power in realizing you're not the only one.
The day after I found out about DeRozan’s and Love’s struggles with mental health, I watched “The Today Show.” There was a piece on Kevin Love, and after it ran, the anchors praised him, saying how brave he was to tell his story.
Then, the chain reaction continued.
Carson Daly, “Today” anchor and host of “The Voice,” admitted that he could relate to Love, as he has experienced anxiety since childhood. He had his first panic attack years ago when he was a host on MTV. He said, “At times I feel like there’s a saber-tooth tiger right here and it’s going to kill me… I’m scared as if that’s really happening. You feel like you’re dying.”
I was surprised to hear this and I wondered if that was the first time Daly talked about his anxiety publicly. It was. Each man had inspired the next.
These three successful men are used to challenges. But this was something new. They weren't used to talking about something so personal so publicly. It takes courage to open up about an issue that can be difficult to discuss. It can be especially hard for men. In our society, boys are often taught at an early age to be tough, to not cry and to not talk about their feelings.
After I heard about Daly’s anxiety, I gave three more NAMI ETS presentations at the high school. I added these three inspiring men to my speech and I noticed the students' faces light up. Something changed within those kids—especially the boys—they leaned forward, wanting to know more.
Maybe some of those teens were going through a difficult time and were encouraged to tell someone and get help. I'll never know—but that’s the thing. You don't know who you're going to reach. That's why it's crucial to keep the conversation going.
Talk about mental illness—no matter who you are.
Thank you DeMar, Kevin and Carson. Because of your inspiring stories and brave words, you're helping countless others. I know my students realized that day that if their role models could have a mental health issue, anyone can. Stigma is beginning to break down. But there's still a long way to go.
The chain reaction can't stop here.
Jenny Marie is a mental health advocate and blogger. Jenny is married and has two daughters. Her blog is called Peace from Panic.
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