With all the excesses, abuses, and nonsense that pro athletes and pop stars can get into these days, it’s gotten rarer that commentators can point to positive actions these influential personalities can take. But a growing number of them deserve credit for publicly discussing their struggles with mental health issues, helping to reduce widespread stigma about them and to better the lives of their young fans.
The list of outspoken and helpful athletes and performers includes: Olympic legend Michael Phelps, National Basketball Association All-Star DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors, and NBA Cleveland Cavaliers superstar Kevin Love, as well as five-time Grammy winner Mariah Carey and actresses Catherine Zeta-Jones and Demi Lovato, and the late Hollywood icon Carrie Fisher.
Phelps and DeRozan bravely have discussed their problems with depression, which affects an estimated 16 million Americans annually and may be one of the most common mental health disorders negatively affecting the nation.
Love has talked about his challenges with anxiety, a condition that affects as many as 1 in 5 Americans and rapidly is rising as one of the major mental health issues confronting us all but especially the young.
Anxiety and depression both have been identified as contributing factors to increasing rates of suicide and suicidal behaviors that have raised concerns among hospitals and emergency rooms treating a spike in patients who have tried to kill or harm themselves.
Meantime, Carey, Zeta-Jones, Lovato, Fisher and Mauro Ranallo, a well-known boxing and martial arts ringside announcer (aka the “Bipolar Rock ‘N’ Roller), have increased public awareness about bipolar and other mental health disorders with which as many as 1 in 6 American adults (more than 44 million people) lived with in 2016.
To be sure, too many public personages use the platforms they achieve via their athletic, musical, or performance prowess to push nothing less than profit-mongering health bunk.
But credit’s due to these stars, at least for now, for trying to dissolve the undeserved shame associated with mental disorders. Guilt and negative feelings, advocates say, can prevent individuals in need from seeking therapies that might help them. It keeps American society from dealing with problems that may be as severe and debilitating as any physical disease or condition. It may foster substance abuse and even violent behaviors.
Young people, already grappling with huge physical changes and emotions new to them, may have greater difficulties in talking about and seeking help for depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. There’s great stigma in many racial and ethnic groups, and among various nationalities, about mental disorders.
That’s why experts and commentators find the open talk by pro athletes and entertainers about their issues to be useful.
In my practice, I see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, and their reluctance, difficulties, and frustrations with accessing and affording safe, effective, and excellent medical care, including mental health care. The Obama Administration and Congress took some big steps to try to put needed mental health needs on a more equal budgetary footing at least with other demands for medical services.
But the Trump Administration and many Republicans in Congress since have done little but target the nation’s health needs, especially for the poor and middle class, for rounds of budget cuts. Many of these have been reversed or rejected by lawmakers. Still, when the leader of the free world mocks the disabled and denigrates foes by questioning their mental wellbeing, this is not helpful. Maybe, if any of the gifted athletes and performers decide to visit the White House, especially after they win medals and championships, they could clue leaders who mass there to greet them about better supporting those with mental disorders? It also would be a good, sane thing for voters to think hard how they want to cast their ballots in what look to be some important midterm elections.