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NBA All-Star DeMar DeRozan Isn’t Immune to Mental Health Issues

DeRozan Hopes His Personal Struggle Lessens The Stigma of Depression

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The Struggle is Real.

The Toronto Raptors have been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference since 2013, thanks in large part to the play of All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan. He’s been a consistent 20 point-per-game scorer, named to four All-Star games, and a member of the U.S. Men’s National Basketball twice. DeRozan is also one of the highest paid players (annually) in the league, earning more than $27 million per season. His total contract will pay him $139 million by 2020. You’d think with all the fame, success, and talent, DeRozan never experiences hard times. However, one tweet in February shone a light on the ‘real-life’ impact of depression and mental health even on successful people.

Hard Knock Life

In an interview with the Toronto Star, DeRozan revealed that he’s dealt with moments of depression since he was a child. The nine-year NBA play grew up in Compton, California. The neighborhood has been plagued by poverty and the devastating impacts of gangs and the drug trade. He told the Toronto Sun in January:

“I grew up in Compton, California, man,” DeRozan said. “Every day was a challenge for me. That’s all I’ve known my whole life. It’s not a surprise for me. It’s not something that’s going to hold me down. I fight through adversity anywhere it comes in my life. It’s nothing new to me.”

The 29-year-old survived the ‘hood to become one of the most dynamic players in the NBA. But reaching the peak of his athletic career hasn’t solved all his problems. DeRozan has left the Raptors twice this season to attend to his father’s failing health. The DeRozan patriarch is battling potentially life-threatening kidney issues. To cope, “DeRozan [has thrown] his life into his family and his basketball, filling every available hour with the search to be a better father and partner and player.”

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DeMar DeRozan (2016-17) Sportsnet Canada

Breaking Down Stigmas

Mental health issues are rarely spoken about in everyday life. The public hears the words ‘the depression anxiety spectrum’ and they say, that person is crazy. DeRozan joins a small group of high-profile professional athletes willing to admit their own mental health struggles.

He said, “I always have various nights,” he said in a wide-ranging and wildly open glimpse into his private life. “I’ve always been like that since I was young, but I think that’s where my demeanor comes from. “I’m so quiet if you don’t know me. I stay standoffish in a sense, in my own personal space, to be able to cope with whatever it is you’ve got to cope with.”

“DeRozan’s frank sharing is a generous gift that helps dispel the shame of suffering these disabilities,” said Myrna Sharp M.ED., M.F.A and licensed psychologist with a private practice in New York. Sharp spoke to FTS about mental health issues athletes face.

The Marshall Plan

The DeRozan story is similar to when Miami Dolphins’ WR Brandon Marshall announced he’d been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) in 2011. The disorder affects our ability to process emotions, magnifies a fear of abandonment, and creates feelings of loneliness and boredom. Marshall performed self-damaging behavior since his playing days at the University of Central Florida in addition to in the NFL with the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins.

Marshall is now an outspoken advocate for MH awareness since going public. USA Today’s “For the Win,” wrote, “If someone had said mental health to me, the first thing that came to mind was mental toughness, masking pain, hiding, keeping it in … that’s what was embedded in me since I was a kid. And it’s funny because now I know it’s the total opposite. It’s being able to have the strength to pick up the phone and ask someone for help.”

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Dolphins’ Brandon Marshall announces his BPD diagnosis. (2011) CBSNews

The Raptors’ All-Star doesn’t intend to be the public face of depression, but his tweet and subsequent comments reached a lot of people. By going public, DeRozan wanted to let people know it’s okay to say, ‘I have issues.’

Getting Personal

Depression and anxiety are very real conditions. They shouldn’t be diminished or considered a way to get attention. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. They affect 40 million adults age 18 and older.

In recent weeks, more than one basketball player opened up about mental health struggles. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love penned an essay in the Player’s Tribune revealing his first panic attack. It took place during a game in November against the Atlantic Hawks. Wizards’ G/F Kelly Oubre told the Washington Wizards Tipoff podcast, “…Deep down inside I am going through a lot. Hell is turning over.” The good news is anxiety disorders are highly treatable, but unfortunately, only 37% of those suffering receive treatment.

Why? Typically it’s the negative stigma associated with the disorders. So the next time a friend or colleague confides in you that are dealing with some ‘stuff,’ don’t judge. Take some time to listen and encourage him or her to get help. For more information about mental health or to get some help, you can call the National Alliance for Mental Illness at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.

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