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What the NBA Can Teach Us About Mental Health at Work

What the NBA Can Teach Us about Mental Health at Work
Written by Matan Berkowitz

The NBA season starts today, which for sports fans means we finally get to see how some interesting offseason storylines will play out. How will Lebron James reshape the Los Angeles Lakers? Does any team have a chance of dethroning the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors? Is this the year the Knicks finally win the championship? (Okay, that last one is definitely not a storyline.)

But if you’re not the type of person who watches basketball on a nightly basis from October to May, there’s still one narrative that’s worth paying attention to. Last March, Kevin Love wrote a piece called “Everyone Is Going Through Something” in The Players’ Tribune, in which the Cleveland Cavaliers’ star described his experience having a panic attack in the middle of a game, and how he has approached his mental health since then. That article came just after then-Toronto Raptors star Demar DeRozan also opened up about his struggles with depression and anxiety. As Love wrote in his piece, “Everyone is going through something that we can’t see… Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of us at some point or another.” Mental health is being talked about more and more throughout the NBA, and it will be interesting to see how that conversation develops once the season gets underway.

So why is this a story worth paying attention to? What does this have to do with Grovo or workplace learning?

For starters, these players are describing how they take care of their mental health at work. It’s easy to forget, since the workplace of a professional athlete is so different from our typical offices, but the panic attack Love described hit him in the middle of his work day. And to his point, he’s far from the only person that happens to. Everyone needs to take care of their mental health while they’re at work at some point or other. And hearing about how professional athletes, whose job performance is critiqued on a level most of us can’t imagine, deal with their mental well-being can be inspiring and helpful.

It’s also worth paying attention to the way the NBA itself has responded to the public discussion around mental health in their league. The National Basketball Players Association hired its first director of mental health and wellness, and during this year’s preseason, Commissioner Adam Silver sent a letter to the players saying, “Each of our offices has newly-enhanced mental wellness programs, which we encourage you to use to manage stress, anxiety and other challenges. It’s a critical step that can also encourage teammates and fans alike to understand that it’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to ask for help.”

Last week, World Mental Health Day on October 10 served as a reminder of how important it is to bring up mental health issues and encourage those who need it to seek support. The NBA, following the lead of its players, is doing more and more to raise awareness around mental health, and making sure their workplaces are ones where employees’ mental well-being is cared for.

So if you’re feeling like you need support or need to speak with someone, please do. And if you’re curious about how you can make caring for mental well-being a key part of your workplace, check out one of our lessons on mental health at work, “Improve Your Mental Wellness.” Mental health is like physical health – everyone can use some form of care at some point. And it’s worth talking about. As Kevin Love wrote: “If you’re reading this and you’re having a hard time, no matter how big or small it seems to you, I want to remind you that you’re not weird or different for sharing what you’re going through. Just the opposite. It could be the most important thing you do.”