Column: DeRozan’s Tweet on Depression Brings Athlete’s Mental Health into Spotlight
DeMar DeRozan is a four-time NBA All-Star; he’s been a top 20 scorer in the league since 2012 – last season he was the fifth leading scorer with 27.3 points per game – and this season he’s helped lead his team to first place in the Eastern conference. Although DeRozan is often overlooked in the discussion of the top players in the NBA, there’s no denying the success he’s had during his nine-year career in the league.
According to Spotrac, DeRozan is currently the ninth highest paid player in the NBA, he’s helped lead his team to five straight playoff appearances (including this season) and he’s even collected two gold medals alongside USA Basketball. But despite establishing himself as one of the best players in the NBA, and enjoying the fame and fortune that comes along with it, DeRozan recently revealed that he is prone to the anguish of depression.
On Feb. 17, DeRozan sent out a tweet saying “This depression get the best of me…” which was a reference to a lyric from a Kevin Gates song titled “Tomorrow” (Liberty students don’t bother looking it up.) Although DeRozan was just quoting a line from the song, thousands of fans and fellow athletes reached out to him in solidarity. The tweet was sent at 6 a.m. and by the end of the day it had over a thousand responses of fans showing both their support for DeRozan, and their own struggles with mental health.
In a recent interview with the Toronto Star, DeRozan admitted that he sent the tweet in a time of difficulty, and that he does struggle with depression.
“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,” DeRozan said in an article for the Toronto Star. “We all got feelings … all of that. Sometimes … it gets the best of you, where times everything in the whole world is on top of you. I always have various nights. I’ve always been like that since I was young, but I think that’s where my demeanor comes from.”
DeRozan acknowledged that he typically keeps to himself, and that the tweet wasn’t sent in anticipation of support, but he was glad that the situation turned into a moment of encouragement.
“It’s not nothing I’m against or ashamed of,” DeRozan said in an article for the Toronto Star. “Now, at my age, I understand how many people go through it. Even if it’s just somebody can look at it like, ‘He goes through it and he’s still out there being successful and doing this,’ I’m OK with that.”
DeRozan’s brief vulnerability is a necessary reminder that mental illness does not discriminate. In this broken world, we are all susceptible to the struggles of mental illness – even athletes with millions of dollars, thousands of fans and virtually all the support that someone could ask for. According to mentalhealth.gov, approximately one-fifth of American adults will experience a mental illness each year. That’s over 40 million people.
In the past few years, there’s been great efforts to improve both mental health care and the perception about mental health in general – but there is still a long way to go. Although there’s a lot of work to be done for mental health in general, I’d like to focus in on mental health in professional sports.
Naturally, there are great expectations placed on professional athletes – the general goal is to be the best, and in order to be the best you have to work like the best. Spectated by thousands, even millions of viewers, professional athletes are expected to maintain their image. On top of that, there’s also expectations to be mentally tough. “Just Do It,” is branded throughout every sport. I’m not saying the Nike slogan is inherently bad, it’s just a reinforcement of a common mindset in sports: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But what about when even the tough can’t get going? What about when the toughest, most capable athletes are plagued with an inward battle that even the thousands of hours spent training and conditioning could not prepare them for?
Take Michael Phelps for example, who holds the record for the most gold Olympic medals (23) and total medals (28). In his peak, Phelps routinely swam 50 miles a week, trained five hours per day six days a week, and even conditioned himself to consume 12,000 calories per day. But none of his training could prepare him for the ruts brought on by mental illness.
“After every Olympics I think I fell into a major state of depression,” Phelps said during a Kennedy forum on Jan 12. 2018. “I didn’t want to be in the sport anymore … I didn’t want to be alive anymore.”
Although there’s been plenty of conversations started about mental health in sports, it is still somewhat of a taboo topic. There also needs to be more emphasis on treatment. When athletes go public with their mental illnesses, the focus is often placed on the struggle versus treatment and how they maintain their lives while living with their illness.
And I don’t want to take away from the power of a popular athlete sharing their struggle, because that is important, and can be life-changing for someone viewing who shares that struggle. But it can also be equally life-changing, if not more beneficial, to also hear of how that athlete went through treatments such as therapy, undergoing the trial-and-error process of finding the right medication, opening up to family and other support systems, and various other ways of receiving treatment.