Battling mental health is a topic DeMar DeRozan knows all too well.
In the latest installment of ESPN NBA columnist, Jackie MacMullan’s 5-part series on mental health in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs guard opened up his ongoing battle with depression and anxiety. Despite his meteoric rise to NBA success through the years, DeRozan says stress still exists.
“You think when you come from a difficult environment that if you get out and you make it to the NBA, all that bad stuff is supposed to be wiped clean,” he said. “But then this whole new dynamic loaded with stress comes your way.
“People say, ‘What are you depressed about? You can buy anything you want.’ I wish everyone in the world was rich so they would realize money isn’t everything.”
In March, the National Basketball Players Association launched a Mental Health and Wellness Program to serve as a resource for all NBPA members. The initiative, which is jointly funded by the league and union, helps players with a wide range of mental health challenges and issues — including allowing players to seek treatment and providing counseling.
Contrary to the benefits of the league’s new program, DeRozan added that many of his NBA peers often resort to self-medicating with alcohol to cope with their mental health issues.
“I watched people suppress their pain with alcohol, which turned them into completely different people – aggressive, emotional, self-destructive,” he said. “I chose not to take that route, but certainly some players have. [My depression] forced me to a place where I was confined, quiet, isolated. And over time, that wasn’t really healthy either. Those feelings build up.”
Prior to his latest comments, in February the Compton-native told the Toronto Star that his history of being “standoffish” at a young age has led to alleviating some of his mental health issues.
“I’ve always been like that since I was young, but I think that’s where my demeanor comes from,” he said. “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.”
Mental illness affects approximately 43.8 million American adults each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Black Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems, including depression and suicide, than the general population.