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Kevin Love, panic attacks and why it’s so important

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So imagine we told you this story about a guy who had a panic attack and then only a few months ago – decided to start seeking therapy. And then he wrote a piece on a pretty popular website about his experience and it became national news. Well that guy is Cleveland Cavalier Kevin Love.

To some – simply talking about their having panic attacks doesn’t seem like much of a blog post, never mind a bonafide, national news story because millions go to therapy every day and anxiety is often one of the most commonly addressed concerns in therapy. So what makes Love’s story different from say – any one else’s?

A lot, actually.

In addition to Love’s piece being very well written, this particular account stood out because of the author. Love isn’t just another basketball player – he’s one of the biggest stars in the NBA – a five time All Star with a Championship ring, winner of the James Naismith Player of the Year award and an Olympic gold medalist.  He’s been among the most successful basketball players at every level of the game. What makes this star athlete different from other athletes who’ve discussed mental health like Michael Phelps, Metta World Peace and Brandon Marshall – is that Love isn’t really the kind of person people expect to be seeking psychotherapy.

For many, it’s hard to picture a revered idol being vulnerable and talking about his feelings. Knowing nothing about him other than the fact that he plays basketball professionally, he doesn’t look the part either. In fact, he’s so average that it borders on boring. Dennis Rodman, he’s not.

The kinds of categories we place him in don’t really fit with the kinds of biases we have about people that do, or we feel should be, seeking treatment.

For starters – Love is rich. Really rich, actually. It’s hard for people to picture how people who don’t have a single, solitary financial concern in the world could possibly have problems – never mind having to deal with something as impactful as a panic attack.

For a little context to this – Love will earn $22.6 million this coming season. The idea of having all the money you’d need, that your kids would need and well, your grandkids, too… that feels foreign to us.

But what’s funny about this is that panic attacks don’t really care that you’ve got a big bank account. Or that you won a lot of awards playing a game, or that you have the adoration and respect of millions of other humans. They especially don’t care about how you look.

You might be financially secure and you might have some sort of sense of accomplishment in your life. But panic and anxiety can grab onto any number of insecurities in our relationships, our physical health, our identity or our ability to simply order a pizza over the phone without stammering. Sure, people with fewer resources are more prone to stress, but the wealthy and successful aren’t immune to mental illness. No one is.

Kevin Love also so happens to be really good at his job. And here’s the other area where we often assume that those who are in therapy are supposedly failing in life; that therapy is a means of corrective punishment for those failures. But get this – in the last year alone Prince Harry, Emma Stone, Demi Lovato, Jennifer Aniston and even Jay Z have opened up about therapy. You know who else has? The Pope. One of the most influential human beings on planet Earth, who is seen as a paragon of virtue, who interprets morality, sin, forgiveness, love, ideas of the world we’re in and the world we’re going to – that guy – gets therapy.

So we immediately move along to this idea of whether these successful people, that have received treatment, got successful ‘despite their failings,’ or was it that they were successful because they asked for help? While those answers are different for everyone, we can say with a certain level of confidence that grappling with their feelings and being open to the idea of guidance can be an integral part of our successes and shouldn’t be – in any way – viewed as a weakness.

Not only is he good at his job – but his job is basketball. It’s sports. Remember the old saying – ‘no pain, no gain?’ We encourage our athletes to ‘suck it up’ and move along when they’re hurt – both with regards to physical pain and emotional pain. But in sports we too often confuse the two. You can tape up that broken thumb and muscle through the Super Bowl. You can fight through a fever and dump 30 points on the Utah Jazz in the NBA finals if you’re Michael Jordan. Sometimes, those injuries sideline us. Sometimes they even motivate us. But what about mental injuries? Things like depression, anxiety and panic attacks? They can sideline you for months. Simply put – mental and physical pain aren’t the same. Being depressed sucks up your energy and the heightened paranoia about one’s own standing can eat away at you until you can’t even focus on what’s in front of you. And no one – not even Kevin Love – can be at his best when he doesn’t have energy and focus.

Oh – and did we mention he’s a man?

Men don’t ask for help as much as women. The Mental Health Foundation found in 2016 that 28% of men who had a history of mental health problems chose not to seek treatment. More than a third of the respondents waited longer than two years to tell others about the challenges they were dealing with or told no one at all.

And let’s not get things confused. Men don’t have less or more of a need for treatment. In fact, men and women experience various forms of mental illness at similar rates, but men tend to underreport or refuse to deal with their problems instead of reaching out for help.

One of the more striking snippets for the piece was this:

“Growing up quickly, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to ‘be a man’

We don’t really picture men as needing treatment because the ideas of simultaneously being tough and seeking help seem to contradict each other. The truth is that to be tough, you need help. Coaches and trainers help hone an athlete’s physical ability. Why would it be weird for an athlete to get mental health experts to help them refine their emotional performance as well? And why wouldn’t that apply to all of us, every day? We go to the gym. We read books and take classes to educate ourselves and get better at our professions. We’re always doing things to make our physical state better, so – why wouldn’t you seek to make yourself better every day mentally?

Some critics have said that Love (and others like him) only talk about their mental health because they have the freedom to do so. They don’t have to worry about the judgment and consequences that come with that kind of public disclosure. But we just don’t agree. If he only disclosed it because he could, he could have also easily flown under the radar. He took the risk and received a great deal of praise, but also helped shed attention on the issue panic attacks and those who suffer through them.

Kevin Love is a very rich, very successful athlete who happens to be a man. And he found relief from his panic attacks by seeking panic attacks treatment.  No one – regardless of their status, gender, career success, physical prowess, intelligence, or fame – is immune to mental health issues. We hope Love’s confession helps more people realize this and seek the kind of treatment that can lead to a happier, more fulfilling life.  

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