CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love took a brave step Tuesday when he publicly shared how a panic attack drove him from a game and began his exploration of mental health, those in the local mental health community say.
“It’s a brave thing to do,” said Dr. Eric Berko, a psychologist and the director of behavioral science at MetroHealth. “It’s a sign of strength, being comfortable in your truth.”
Love revealed his experiences with mental health in a contributed piece “Everyone is Going Through Something” for The Players’ Tribune, in which he detailed how a panic attack led him to start giving his mental health the kind of attention his physical health gets.
“Partly, I want to do it for me, but mostly, I want to do it because people don’t talk about mental health enough. And men and boys are probably the farthest behind,” Love wrote. “Mental health isn’t just an athlete thing. What you do for a living doesn’t have to define who you are. This is an everyone thing. No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside.”
In the U.S., 18 percent of adults have anxiety disorders, under which category panic attacks fall, yet only 37 percent of those affected seek treatment, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Scott Osiecki, CEO of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County, said the stigma associated with mental illness can keep those in need of help from getting it, and he credits Love for helping change the conversation surrounding mental health.
“We really want to thank Kevin Love. We are so proud of him, not only for his contributions to basketball, but also in speaking out,” Osiecki said. “It really has a great impact when Kevin and other people who are folks people look up to say it’s OK to have a mental illness. That really helps to break down that stigma and the barriers people have.”
There are a number of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder, among others. While many people may experience the symptoms of some of these disorders, those symptoms only translate into disorders when they become disruptive, Osiecki said.
“Anybody at any point in their life is going to feel anxious about something,” Osiecki said. “Generalized anxiety disorder is when people worry all of the time, and it interferes with their life. It’s a chronic condition; it’s that feeling of heightened anxiety all day long.”
The same is true of panic disorder. Many people can feel the symptoms: heart pounding, hearing more acute, a need to get more air.
“It’s the basic fight or flight mechanism that we all have. That’s only a panic disorder when it starts to happen when you don’t want it to,” MetroHealth’s Berko said. “Your brain’s not doing anything bad; it’s trying to help you out. The problem is you don’t need the help; you don’t need to outrun a woolly mammoth or a cheetah.”
The same thing that makes these disorders relatable, however, also makes many dismiss them. Because people are familiar with the symptoms of panic attacks or of anxiety, it is common for those without the disorders to think others should also be able to get over them.
“A person who doesn’t have the disorder would say, ‘I got over that in a matter of minutes,'” ADAMHS’ Osiecki said.
He likens it to migraines. People without migraines think others are just getting headaches because that is what they’re familiar with. But migraines are actually “a crippling disease,” Osiecki said.
Athletes sharing their truth
Love, an NBA All-Star, said he was encouraged to talk about mental health by Toronto Raptor and fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan’s decision to open up about his own depression last month.
“I’ve played against DeMar for years, but I never could’ve guessed that he was struggling with anything,” Love wrote. “Because just by sharing what he shared, DeMar probably helped some people – and maybe a lot more people than we know – feel like they aren’t crazy or weird to be struggling with depression. His comments helped take some power away from that stigma, and I think that’s where the hope is.”
DeMar first revealed his experiences with depression through a tweet and later elaborated on his personal battles in an interview with The Toronto Star.
This depression get the best of me…
— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) February 17, 2018
“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 told The Star. “We all got feelings . . . all of that. Sometimes . . . it gets the best of you, where times everything in the whole world’s on top of you.”
Love isn’t the first Cavs player to start a conversation about mental health. A few years ago, Delonte West revealed he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after he was arrested for speeding, cutting off a police cruiser and carrying loaded weapons on his motorcycle. West, who is no longer in the NBA, has since distanced himself from that diagnosis and questioned whether public perception of his clinical illness affected his professional career.
Tips and resources for getting health
For those who think they may have a mental illness, mental health experts recommend first seeing a primary care doctor for a physical evaluation to ensure the symptoms present aren’t indicative of a physical illness. A primary care doctor can then refer patients to a counselor or therapist.
- ADAMHS’s partner agency, FrontLine Service, offers a 24-hour suicide prevention, mental health crisis, information and referral hotline at 216-623-6888, as well as an online chat service 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday at www.frontlineservice.org.
- Through the national Crisis Text Line, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services offers a 24/7 texting service for those in crisis. Those in Ohio can text “4hope” to 741741 to be connected with a crisis counselor.