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NBA 2019-2020 Season: New Mental Health Guidelines and Requirements



What do Stephon Marbury, Delonte West, Eddie Griffin, and Larry Sanders have in common? They all had a mental disorder. 

On the other hand, what do Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan’s aim for? An improved mental health program for the NBA players–a platform that recognizes their mental health needs.

So, for the upcoming season 2019-20, expect a lot of changes on this front, a league memo issued to the 30 teams has noted.

NBA’s expanded mental health program

Announced on August 7, 2019, the health initiative requires that each team must have a mental health professional or two (on retainer basis). He or she must have extensive experience in the assessment and treatment of clinical mental health conditions. A licensed psychiatrist shall also aid the organization in managing any mental health concerns.

In line with this, all teams are expected to draft their respective action plan as protocols during a mental health emergency. A set of confidentiality policies regarding the matter is an additional requirement.

Likewise, the 30 NBA teams must attend the health and wellness meeting to be conducted in Chicago on September 12. Guidelines will be discussed during the meeting.

The changes sprung from the slate of NBA players’ revelation about their bouts against various mental health issues. They suffered from such before and while playing in the league. 

Addressing the players’ mental health needs

Love and Keyon Dooling wrote personal essays about this issue and their advocacy and published in The Player’s Tribune. DeRozan, on the other hand, discussed his mental health challenge–depression, as he spoke with Doug Smith of the Toronto Star.

In Love’s influential essay, Everyone is Going Through Something, he said,

“So for 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem. Sure, I knew on some level that some people benefited from asking for help or opening up. I just never thought it was for me. To me, it was a form of weakness that could derail my success in sports or make me seem weird or different.”

For Love, who had a panic attack in the middle of the game, and other NBA players who are struggling with depression, they were trapped in a playbook. Such playbook requires every man to: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own.

Commission Adam Silver acknowledged the mental health needs of the players, among others, who face gruelling tasks game after game. He talked openly about the issue in February. 

At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston held in the first quarter of 2019, Silver said, “A lot of these young men are generally unhappy.” 

True to Sliver’s words, “We are living in a time of anxiety.” And the NBA needs to step up its game if it really wants to help the players who are also struggling with accepting their conditions and talking about it.

A lot of things must be done, but the memorandum is the Association’s next stage since the creation of the mental health and wellness program in 2018. Dooling currently heads the program.

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