I’ve written about athletes like Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, and Kolten Wong speaking out about mental health before, and how important it is for anyone with a platform to use it to make this world a better place. I’ve written about my own mental health before, too. Being open about it is the only way we will be able to move from stigma into societal acceptance and better treatment for those who need it.
Last night, I saw a series of disturbing tweets, videos of former NBA player Delonte West, getting beaten in the street, and ranting, clearly not in a healthy state of mind. It seemed unfathomable, but after comparing the man’s tattoos to older photos online, I was sure it was him. I shared one of the videos, in hopes that maybe someone in a position to help would do so. The responses were overwhelming: thousands of people sympathized with Delonte West, saying they would pray for him and that they hope he got the care he needs.
But there were also many who mocked and ridiculed his suffering, making jokes about an old rumor regarding one of his teammates, or making light of the very real problem that is drug addiction. Even more people were cold, saying that even though he’s mentally ill, he’s also rich, and therefore undeserving of our sympathy when there are millions of people who need help more. People could not take one minute to consider the fact that many people who are mentally ill are incapable of helping themselves. Many were callous, and said that he’s had more than enough help already, and the buck stopped long ago.
There is no quick fix for mental health. It takes more than one therapy session or one pill; there is no magic cure, no Easy Button. It takes work and support from loved ones. I learned that growing up with family members who struggled with their own mental health issues and addiction, and I know from personal experience, in my own struggles with depression, anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s something I still work on every day. Abandoning Delonte West because he’s had chances to be helped in the past is not how mental health works.
Clearly, throwing money at a problem is not always the solution. Delonte West was the Celtics’ first-round pick in 2004, playing with superstars, making millions of dollars, and now he’s getting beaten up on the streets. While he was in a better position than many members of society, mental health, like many problems, does not discriminate based on tax bracket. In 2015, West told the Washington Post that he was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008, and sought treatment. He was open about multiple attempts to commit suicide in his teens. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the United States will experience a form of mental illness each year, and 19.3% of those US adults with mental illness also experienced substance use disorder. 20.1% of the homeless population have a serious mental health condition. But in 2018, only 43.3% of US adults with mental illness were treated for it.
In this age of social media, we are all desensitized to the pain we see on our screens. We can see and learn about terrible things happening across the world in real time, in a way that we have never been able to before. We are inundated with content every minute we are online, and the coping mechanism is to compartmentalize it, because if we truly took in all of the suffering we see on social media, we could not function. At least, I know I could not. We scroll past school shootings, crime, natural disasters, even the personal pain of our friends and family, because there is so much. Too much. And it feels like it’s impossible to make a difference.
It’s a tough, but fair question to ask “Why help someone famous when millions of others are suffering unnoticed?” But at the end of the day, Delonte West is just a fellow human being. And if his story being shared enables him to get the help he needs, then that means one less person in this world is suffering. It also means we’re continuing the conversation about mental health and working towards helping everyone and anyone who needs it. Every journey begins with a single step.
Statistics and research courtesy of NAMI
Photo: Harry How / Getty Images