Celebrity figures shouldn’t always influence our health and wellness, but there’s something to be said for a recent trend that’s seen major professional athletes going public about their mental health struggles. We know that sometimes all it takes for someone to address his or her own mental health is to hear someone else speaking openly about it. So with that said, we wanted to highlight just a handful of the many high-profile athletes who have courageously spoken up in just the last few years.
Kevin Love – NBA Basketball Player
Kevin Love was not the first modern athlete to publicly discuss mental health, but he proved to be perhaps the most influential, seemingly opening the door for his fellow athletes to follow suit. Initially speaking up via an essay in The Players’ Tribune (a publication that allows athletes to speak directly to fans, rather than being quoted or written about through conventional media), Love has since made a habit of opening up about his struggles. On a personal level, the NBA champion has dealt with anxiety and panic attacks. But his main benefit to the public has been in communicating in general that it’s okay, and even gratifying, to “admit” to personal struggles and let others in.
Novak Djokovic – ATP Tennis Player
Novak Djokovic is exactly the sort of person some might think of as being immune to personal struggle, simply because of the level of success he’s achieved. He’s widely viewed as the best current tennis player on Earth and one of the best of all time. And if you monitor U.S. bookies heading into next year’s tennis calendar, you’ll continue to see Djokovic with some of the best betting odds to win major tournaments, even as he moves into his mid-30s. Yet Djokovic has acknowledged that he too struggles. While he hasn’t elaborated on specific mental health issues, he’s discussed his mental state having an effect on his game, and has talked about doubting himself on a deep, fundamental level. For someone at the top of the world in his field to be open about such feelings should help a lot of others to realize that self-doubt is common and can be addressed and overcome.
Liz Cambage – WNBA Basketball Player
Liz Cambage actually followed Kevin Love’s lead and posted her own essay in The Players’ Tribune just this past summer. A 28-year-old WNBA star in the prime of her career, Cambage discussed her battles with depression and alcohol abuse in vivid detail. Some of it is upsetting to read, but it’s just the kind of account that can lead others to be brave, particularly – again – coming from a figure who can seem immortal at a glance. From abusing alcohol at the age of 15 to spending evenings of her rookie season in tears, Cambage appears to spare no details. Hopefully she’ll inspire others who are struggling to be as open in addressing mental health head-on.
Steve Smith Sr. – NFL Football Player (retired)
Steve Smith Sr. is no longer playing professional football, but he was a superstar wide receiver for many years, and about as talented a player at his position as the league saw during his career. Furthermore, Smith always played with a near-astonishing degree of confidence, making him the last person some would expect to struggle with mental health. As it turns out though, he’s another of limitless examples that even genuine confidence does not mean a person isn’t struggling internally. At the end of his career, Smith opened up about his depression, even stating that it kept him from enjoying his career. He’s gone on to speak at mental health events.
Aly Raisman – Professional Gymnast
Aly Raisman has transcended her sport in numerous ways. She’s a multi-time Olympic gold medalist for the United States gymnastics team, but arguably became even more famous when she became the face of women gymnasts standing up against rampant sexual abuse in the U.S. program. In taking on this role, focusing more on her own self-care, and even becoming a source of inspiration and – in an unofficial way – therapy for girls who went through traumatic experiences, Raisman has become as powerful an advocate for mental health as we have in the sports world.