In Praise of Ron Artest (And His Psychiatrist)

by pronounced "ahhh" like a sigh

Now that I’m off Twitter, I miss everything. No, seriously, I have no clue what’s going on in the world. Apparently, some sort of sports thing is happening in South Africa and last night Kobe Bryant won a thing? I’m not sure. Nothing makes sense without a hashtag.
Anyway, I woke up this morning to find out who won the NBA championship last night (Booooooo!) and discovered a lot of online jokes about a player thanking his psychiatrist. I assumed this was some sort of mental health joke that is all the rage these days because mental illness is so hilarious! I dismissed it until someone I respect posted a facebook message offering support and perspective for the player, I now know is Ron Artest, for publicly thanking his psychiatrist.

Wow. A black man, nay, black athlete thanked his psychiatrist on national TV doing one of two things:

  1. Admitting that he sees someone for mental health help
  2. Admitting that he needs mental health help.

Is this real life? Did this actually happen? I had to see for myself so I googled and found the following clip:

http://www.sbnation.com/2010/6/18/1524114/video-nba-finals-game-7-lakers-vs-celtics-ron-artest-shrink

No shame. No embarrassment. Just gratitude to the woman that helped him “get focused”. My google search of Ron Artest, lead me to a story of his “wild” lifestyle. He was involved in the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl, where he punched a fan in the face. He admitted to drinking (self medicating?) at half-time when he played for the Bulls. He showed up at a practice in his bath robe. He has a domestic violence charge. The list goes on and on.

Shouldn’t this man be praised for getting the help that he obviously needed? Why is he being mocked and made the brunt of jokes? Was the shout out unexpected, yes. But it should not be shamed. The amount of courage and bravery it takes to admit that you need mental health assistance and to get it is incredible. It’s no easy feat. Black men, especially, are the least likely to seek treatment for mental illness. Does this mean that they are the least likely to have a mental illness in their lifetime? No. It simply means that they don’t get the help they need. If the reaction to Artest’s confession is any indication, I can’t say that I’m shocked.

I’ve been speaking openly about my own journey with mental illness for over 5 years now and without fail, there is always someone (or someones) who wants to shame me or make me feel somehow unworthy of respect or understanding because I’m a “mad woman”. Mental illness is often purposefully looked upon as a sign of weakness. People go out of their way not to understand in a way that they would not dare for any other illness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental illness is more common than diabetes, heart diseases and cancer. 1 in every 4 people will have one or more mental illness in their lifetime. Do you have any idea how many people that is? Yet we still allow stigma and hurtful comments to keep us from speaking out or seeking treatment.
I’ve learned to brush off hurtful comments but I still admit that it hurts. And some days you don’t want to have to brush them off. You want to tell the people doing it to, “Shut the fuck up.” or simply just deactivate your Twitter account and live the life you know you were meant to live. And continuing speaking out to those who want to listen. But this isn’t about me.

It’s about all of us.

I’m not a big basketball fan, haven’t been since I used to play and BJ Armstrong left the building, and I know very little of Ron Artest but as a black woman and mental health advocate, I applaud Mr. Artest for his brave confession. I salute him and pray that he himself uses this opportunity to become an advocate for mental health awareness amongst men of color. Our men are dying at an alarming rate, many to suicide, often to self medicating treatable mental illnesses with drugs or alcohol. If Ron Artest’s revelation about his own mental health, reaches one person who needs it, then that should be celebrated. Do I think it should end there? No. But I also know that self-care is important and if Mr. Artest isn’t ready to be an advocate, then just those few seconds of admission is sadly, more than I can recall from anyone of that stature in the black community.

So on that note, I’m back to this book that I hope will put a dent in this stigma and add some voice to this dull chorus. I encourage any and everybody, regardless of background, ethnicity or social standing to go and get help if you feel you need it. Fuck anyone who tries to shame you. There is no shame in this only an opportunity for healing.

And Mr. Artest, I salute and support your on going efforts for mental health and clarity.

In strength and solidarity,
B.

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