Athlete Sheds Light on Mental Health


Two years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a conference, “Suicide and the Black Church” that was hosted by a local church. The fact that it was created and coordinated by a church impressed me.

During one of the breakout sessions, one of the facilitators informed attendees about a documentary film called “Mind Games” that he had recently produced. The person that the documentary highlighted was well known in the sports arena and significantly associated with the venue of the conference.

But it has only been during recent years that Chamique Holdsclaw’s name has been associated with mental health advocacy.

If you are a basketball fan, then you should be familiar with the name Chamique Holdsclaw. Her athletic accomplishments are up there with the greatest of them.  They are discussed in one of her many books including, Breaking Through. Although she had already been given many accolades during her high school days, Chamique’s athletic career really jump started when she was recruited by University of Tennessee Knoxville coach, Pat Summitt.

Throughout Chamique’s speech, detailing her experiences with mental illness, she frequently referenced her former coach for the great impact she had on her life.

Personally, I could barely hold my tears captive as I eagerly listened to her tell a story that I could so easily relate to. Although I have been advocating for mental health for years, it is something empowering about hearing someone else who has been where you have or currently are.

The testimonies of others motivate you.

Listening to others share their real pain encourages you out of your dark place.

It says that you are not alone and it is a part of life to be where you have currently found yourself. But the good news is that you don’t have to stay there. Just as that person got through their difficult times and discovered their strength, so can you.

Doesn’t it feel good just to know someone else actually understands what you often find challenging to articulate to others?

Mental disorders affect everyone.  It is empowering when various backgrounds, cultures, and communities can raise up an advocate who can help champion the cause. We naturally relate better to those like us or who have similar interests.

Athletes are not exempt from mental illnesses. Despite how strong and resilient they are and how they are forced to stand on the high pedestal that fans, media and coaches place them on, they still must play the game of life. And when you feel the pressure of not showing any signs of weaknesses to your team, coach and fans, masking a mental disorder can be very difficult to juggle even on a familiar court.

By Chamique and other athletes having authentic conversations about mental health, it helps other athletes to also reach out for help. Especially those not in the professional arena such as junior varsities and collegiate sports.

But before these courageous athletes developed the boldness to share their personal struggles, they had to accept their own truths.

This is a relevant step among athletes and any one dealing with a mental illness. The shame and stigma associated with mental health care has to be removed. This will allow each person to break his or her silence when they find themselves in what seems like a hopeless situation.

So my hats off to Chamique Holdsclaw who has now liberated herself from the perspective of others and doing what she feels free to do.  Be sure to watch the documentary film, “Mind Games” by Rick Goldsmith. To learn more about Chamique Holdsclaw story, click here.

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