• Jay Christian

My Mental Health Hero: How Metta World Peace Helped Me Address My Depression

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As a reformed jock, I know firsthand that injuries can be crippling. Sprained ankles, pulled muscles and torn ligaments are routine in sports. But as tough as physical pain can be, equally painful are the mental injuries—mental illness—that people suffer through each day.

Mental illness manifests itself in the form of depression, bipolar disorder and a host of other mood-altering conditions that can debilitate the strongest among us.

I know because I was one of those strong people going through life without a care in the world until depression began to rule my life. I suffered through years of denial and debauchery before finally admitting I need help and found an unlikely source of inspiration in the process. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.

In college, I was a promising young small forward for a small Division I school in Houston. Granted, we were more known for our academics more than our hoops, but I didn’t care. I was living my dream of playing college basketball.

That dream ended prematurely for me. A heart condition forced me to retire after my freshman season. The school honored my scholarship, so I was allowed to finish my education. I should have been thankful to have remained at such an institution and that the doctors identified my condition when they did. But few kids have that kind of perspective at 19.

I wasn’t thankful. I didn’t feel blessed. But I wasn’t necessarily pissed either. I didn’t resent my teammates who were healthy enough to continue their careers. I didn’t curse God for my lot in life. I didn’t feel anything. I just existed.

The next few years of my life were practically a case study for psychology grad students. I partied way too much. I was on academic probation, then suspension. I alienated people and ruined relationships. I didn’t care too much about anyone or anything. I didn’t want to face life. Instead, I just existed.

You would think my story would conclude with a tragic incident in a shower that finally convinced me to seek help. But it doesn’t. I managed to stay afloat, drifting along in my life and graduating from college and law school along the way. I even ended up with a wife and three kids to boot.

Over the next few years, I’d gotten pretty good at masking the pain. Occasionally, I’d have too many drinks at a social gathering or scarf some fast food and a few beers in the garage when I was feeling especially low, but otherwise I had my depression under control, at least to the untrained eye.

But I was wrong. My battle with depression was not over. In many ways, I had never even acknowledged its shot across the bow. One day though, the walls began to close in on me.

Working a new job with new people, I began to feel stressed. That stress was compounded by the ordinary stresses of life – providing for my family and raising good human beings in what seemed like an increasingly crazy world. Add to that my search for professional fulfillment and I was too overwhelmed to cope. I decided I needed help a full 17 years after the injury that ended my collegiate basketball career.

For anyone who has never done it, I can tell you that asking for help is a pretty difficult first step. I remember that after I scheduled my appointment my mind was racing with thoughts. I wondered what my wife would think. I thought about whether I made the right choice in seeking help in the first place. I thought about Metta World Peace.

Metta World Peace, the former Ron Artest, is a retired NBA player who, in his prime, was an elite defender and talented scorer. In addition to his on-the-court accomplishments, he is perhaps best known for his role in the Malice at the Palace, a November 19, 2004 brawl between World Peace’s visiting Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons.

For me, Metta World Peace was also the guy who, after winning the 2010 NBA Finals as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, thanked his therapist in his post-game interview. It was one of the most unique postgame shoutouts in Finals history (even ESPN reporter Doris Burke seemed a bit taken aback) but in that interview an advocate was born.

World Peace continued to speak up about mental health issues. He shot a public service announcement on the topic. He raised money and talked with school aged children. His advocacy took him all the way to Congress, where he supported measures that would bring funding for mental health services to public schools.

In many ways, World Peace’s advocacy is a fitting symbol of the challenges and triumphs of addressing mental health and wellness in America.

On the one hand, the jokes write themselves. How can World Peace, the guy who charged the stands to lay waste to the Pistons faithful, the guy who showed up to an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live in his boxers, how can that guy be a spokesman for anything? Or an even lazier joke – of course World Peace is a spokesman for mental health. Dude is batshit crazy.

In either case each “joke” represents the stigma around mental health that persists. Mental health is often given the blame, but hardly the support, it needs. The stigma is particularly scathing in communities of color where studies have found that many men in these communities are reluctant to seek help and underutilize available resources to get better.

On the other hand, of all things, Metta World Peace’s 2010 Finals postgame interview is what finally got me comfortable enough to seek professional help.

I was one of those “strong” men referenced in mental health studies; too hesitant, too prideful, too poisoned by toxic masculinity to admit I had an issue that needed my immediate attention. I tried to pray. I tried to man up. I tried everything except the most obvious thing which was asking help.

If World Peace did not have the courage to admit his battle with mental health issues to the world on his sports’ biggest stage, then I probably never would have asked for help when I did, which means I likely would have just continued to exist until there was nothing left to exist for.

World Peace and I have never spoken much less met and despite our shared dream of world domination here at Off the Glass, I feel safe in saying he has no clue who I am.

But I am grateful that he chose to use his platform the way he did. And as a thank you, I felt obligated to use my platform to tell my story and inspire others to seek the help they need.

It’s not too late. You are not alone. If nothing else, you got me and Metta World Peace.

#NBA #MentalHealth #JayChristian #MettaWorldPeace