It took a panic attack for basketball star Kevin Love to change his mind about mental health.
The frightening episode left him breathless, confused and questioning his long-held beliefs that asking for help was a “form of weakness.”
The 29-year-old, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, opened up about his experience in a deeply personal essay published in The Players’ Tribune on Tuesday.
“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.
“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.”
The panic attack happened during a game last November after “a perfect storm” of problems: Love was stressed about family issues; he wasn’t sleeping well and he was worried about how things were going on the basketball court. Suddenly, he felt his heart racing and couldn’t catch his breath.
“Everything was spinning, like my brain was trying to climb out of my head. The air felt thick and heavy. My mouth was like chalk,” Love wrote. “It was like my body was trying to say to me, ‘You’re about to die.’”
He ran to the locker room and ended up on the floor, gasping for air. When a trip to the hospital showed nothing was wrong, Love was relieved. But he couldn’t stop thinking about what happened and why he was so concerned about people finding out. He decided he couldn’t “bury” or dismiss the episode, so the team helped him find a therapist.
It turned out to be a “big thing,” even though Love wrote he was the last person who’d have thought he’d seek counseling. Opening up or seeking help for mental health issues would make him seem weird or different, he once thought.
Skeptical at first, Love came to be impressed about how helpful it was to talk about issues, like the death of his grandmother. He urged others, especially boys and men brought up to be “strong” and not discuss their feelings, to get help.
“I want to remind you that you’re not weird or different for sharing what you’re going through,” Love wrote. “Just the opposite. It could be the most important thing you do. It was for me.”
It’s incredibly important when high-profile figures open up about their mental health issues, said Simon Rego, chief psychologist at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York and a member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
They can help demystify preconceptions people may have about the prevalence of mental health problems and highlight the importance of getting help, he noted. Sports figures, especially, may be key because young people often look to them to set examples for what’s acceptable and helpful.
Love has a point that when it comes to seeking help for mental health problems, some hesitation and stigma remains among men, but there’s less reluctance now for them to open up, Rego added.
“The traditional advice of ‘suck it up’ is hopefully crumbling in the face of well-respected, high-profile figures saying ‘No, this affected me, too, and I sought help and benefitted from it,’” Rego noted.
About 6 million adults in the U.S. experience panic disorder in a given year. The disorder, marked by the sudden onset of feeling like something is really wrong, is highly responsive to treatment, according to the ADAA.