Men's Health: Athletes In Recovery

June is Men’s Health Month. In honor of all the great male athletes we wanted to focus in on four different mental health struggles and discuss how these men were able to overcome obstacles during their careers.

From the archives of the Players’ Tribune: current and former professional athletes get real about experiencing mental illness, overcoming stigma, and how they got help.

On Depression and Substance Abuse: 

“This is real life. As real as it gets. Guys are suffering. In some cases, people are dying. And it simply doesn’t have to be like that.”
— Nick Boynton, NHL (Retired)

Retired NHL player Nick Boynton experienced multiple concussions on the ice, suffered pre-game anxiety, developed drug and alcohol addiction, and was traded by the first team he asked for help. After getting sober, he found that he still struggles with crushing depression. Seeking help for mental health issues has meant, for Nick, recognizing that addiction and mental illness co-exist, and that they require separate treatment. In a 2018 Players’ Tribune essay, he wrote, “For me individually, nothing is guaranteed at this point. I’ve still got lots of issues to try and fight through, and every day presents new challenges. But one thing I know for certain is that I’m done lying and pretending that everything’s O.K…”

To read more from Nick Boynton (June 13, 2018): https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/nick-boynton-everythings-not-ok

On Panic Disorder: 

“It was like my body was trying to say to me, You’re about to die.”
— Kevin Love, NBA

Cleveland Cavaliers center and power forward Kevin Love suffered an on-court panic attack in November 2017. Kevin began challenging the messages he had absorbed as a child, as a young man, and as a professional athlete about how to handle emotion, stress, and grief. Writing about the experience in the Players’ Tribune in March 2018, he said, “I’d thought the hardest part was over after I had the panic attack. It was the opposite. Now I was left wondering why it happened — and why I didn’t want to talk about it...I know you don’t just get rid of problems by talking about them, but I’ve learned that over time maybe you can better understand them and make them more manageable. Look, I’m not saying, Everyone go see a therapist. The biggest lesson for me since November wasn’t about a therapist — it was about confronting the fact that I needed help.”

To read more from Kevin Love (March 6, 2018): https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/kevin-love-everyone-is-going-through-something

On Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: 

“I am not insane. I am not a bad person. I am not weak. I have an illness, and there is a treatment.”
— Corey Hirsch, NHL (Retired)

Corey Hirsch could only find relief from his dark, frightening intrusive thoughts while he was on the ice. Eventually, though, even his games were affected. After being diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which can cause intrusive thoughts, Corey was relieved to learn that his experiences were not caused by a moral failing or a personal weakness. In his 2017 Players' Tribune essay, he credits a therapist with helping him understand the disorder and how to manage it, and credits his former teammates, managers, and team psychologists for their support: “When I think back on those years in the NHL, when I was lost completely lost in the darkness, it is painful. But I will never, ever forget the teammates who tried to protect me. I will never forget the guys who went out of their way to make sure I had somebody to talk to, even though I never told them what was really wrong. For all they knew, I was just an arrogant kid. But they were there for me anyway.”

To read more from Corey Hirsch (February 15, 2017): https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/corey-hirsch-dark-dark-dark

On Depression and Childhood Trauma: 

“So, What the hell happened to Darius Miles? Man, a lot. A lot happened to Darius Miles. But it’s 2018 now — and I’ll tell you one thing. He alright.”
— Darius Miles, NBA (Retired)

Darius Miles went from high school in East St. Louis to playing for the LA Clippers at age 18. The neighborhood trauma he experienced as a child was compounded by personal losses while playing in the NBA. He recounted this experience in the Players' Tribune: “My whole life, I used basketball as an escape. When you grow up how I grew up, I think you’re probably bound to have some kind of PTSD. I ain’t a doctor, but when you grow up running from gunshots all the time, I think there’s something inside you that never leaves...My people were dropping like flies when I was in the league ― homies, cousins, my grandmomma ― and I never cried, not one damn time.” After Miles’ mother died, he suffered a 3-year depressive episode, compounded by anxiety and paranoia. Today, his mental health is improving, and he surrounds himself with friends and support.

To read more from Darius Miles (October 24, 2018): https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/what-the-hell-happened-to-darius-miles

Mental illness, substance abuse, and trauma, are all difficult to overcome. Especially while in the spotlight because with these illnesses comes great stigma. If you are struggling, remember to take things one day at a time and to not be ashamed. We are all here to support you!

image+(10).png

Megan Mulvaney is an MA, MPH Candidate and Public Health researcher at Workit. She’s committed to delivering evidence-based addiction treatment and brings over 11 years of experience in healthcare operations to the WorkIt team.