The NBA, Social Media, and Players’ Mental Health
This week the topic of mental health is once again trending in the world of the NBA thanks to Adam Silver’s comments in an interview with Bill Simmons. The interview discussed far more than just social media and mental health, but the following quote from the interview is part of what people are having intense discussions about.
“I think there are a few issues going on. One is a larger societal issue… I think we live a bit in the age of anxiety. I’ve read studies on this. I think part of it is a direct product of social media. I think those players we’re talking about when I meet with them, what strikes me when I meet them, they’re truly unhappy. This is not some show they’re putting on for the media… I think to the outside world they see the fame, the money, all that trappings that go with it, they’re the best in the world at what they do. They say, ‘how is it possible that they can even be complaining?’ … A lot of these young men are genuinely unhappy. Some have come from very difficult circumstances and that doesn’t help. Some are amazingly isolated.” – Adam Silver
You can watch the entire interview here:
I’ve heard psychologists say that Adam Silver is generalizing mental health and being critical of his lack of knowledge. I saw another therapist post that it’s not that anxiety is more rampant today, it’s that people are reporting it more. I’ve heard other people say they felt he’s implying every NBA player has a mental health issue. Naturally, there are also those who say that these players have no real problems and shouldn’t have anything to complain about, one of those individuals being NBA legend Charles Barkley.
And then there’s this from Jay Williams on ESPN’s GetUp that aired on Thursday, March 7. Jay drew praise and intense criticism, and that’s just from the people sitting at the table with him, but I am all about his take on the issue.
Before I go too much further, I want to preface what I’m about to say by first saying this. I am not a licensed mental health professional. I didn’t go to school to study mental health. I didn’t complete internships or take any board exams. I’ve lived this. I have been around sports, athletes, and the culture that goes with it, most of my life. I’ve also struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a young teenager. My point here being that I am approaching this from the perspective of someone who hasn’t formally studied this stuff, but has lived it. And perspective is what the bulk of this article is all about because that’s the discussion that I think needs to take place.
Mental health and social media is a conversation in and of itself, which I will address as its own topic one of these days. However, right now, due to the comments sparked by Adam Silver’s interview, it’s important to me that I share some thoughts here.
- Each individual has his or her own story and their own struggles, which are largely invisible. Just because someone seems to have it all, that doesn’t mean they feel that way on the inside. That doesn’t make them weak or whiny. It makes them human.
- As for the argument that we shouldn’t label everyone who acts out as having mental health disorders, I agree, however, mental health issues don’t have to occur only in extreme circumstances. You’re not either depressed or happy. That’s not real life. You can have bad days. You can go through hard times. In other words, you don’t have to have a mental health disorder to be struggling with mental wellness.
- Shutting down the conversation by criticizing any individual and saying they, “should be happy” and “have no real problems” is an issue. To me, that’s what’s happening here and shows just how far we have to go in society in the discussion of mental health. Maybe some of the players who are drawing criticism aren’t clinically anxious or depressed, but guess what? They have buttons. Just like you and me. They also live under incredible pressure and not everyone enjoys being in that spotlight.
- In yet another perspective, to Adam Silver’s point, we don’t know if the individuals have dealt with difficult circumstances growing up. They often keep it to themselves. What’s important to realize about this is that just because the person went through something difficult in the past, it doesn’t mean it’s done and over with for that person. Meaning maybe they haven’t dealt with it or made peace with it because they’ve been suppressing it. And guess what? That shit will sneak up on you, especially when you’re in high-pressure environments.
- Last but not least, let’s consider the fact that we are talking about young men in their 20’s and 30’s who, when it comes to development, have probably spent the majority of their lives developing their basketball skills and not their personal stuff. If we take another step further, when’s the last time you worked on your own personal development? I think most people spend the majority of their time developing their professional skills, working on hobbies, and their interpersonal/familial relationships than they do on their inner game.
Mental wellness is a very personal topic. It’s also complicated because people are complicated. So, can we please give Adam Silver and the players a little bit of a break? It’s not in our best interest as we move forward with addressing mental health in society to dismiss how people are feeling or criticize them. (What really annoyed me as well are the “medical professionals” who said Adam Silver misspoke. Does that even
All that happens when you pass judgment on someone is that you stop the conversation. What people who are struggling with
The bottom line is I’m me and you’re you so can we please stop judging each other and start allowing each other to be who we are in any given moment? You don’t own my experience and I don’t own your experience so I think we would go a long way if we were just respectful of that.
If there is anyone out there who feels that same way or who wants to discuss more, particularly athletes, let’s chat.