NBA standout Jerry West has had one of the most successful professional basketball careers both on and off the court. Recently he revealed a very long struggle with depression for an interview taped with Bryant Gumbel for HBO. He said his depression started in childhood due to physical abuse from his father. (Now he is 73.) It was severe enough abuse as a twelve-year old he kept a shotgun under his bed and threatened to use it if the beatings continued. “I would go to bed feeling like I didn’t even want to live. I’ve been so low sometimes and when everyone else would be so high because I didn’t like myself.” (Source: Thirdage.com)
The emotional toll from such abuse is what scars a child, because they often interpret the violence as something they deserved, and as an indication there is something wrong with them. Somehow West remained committed to developing as a basketball player, excelling in a West Virginia high school and averaged 32 points per game in one season. At West Virginia University he was on a team that went to a national championship. He was good enough to become a professional with the Los Angeles Lakers and win an Olympic gold medal in 1960.
With the Lakers he became a co-captain and was selected to the all-star team fourteen years. In one playoff series he average over 46 points per game. After his playing career was finished, he then became the Lakers head coach for several years. Later he became their General Manager and during this period the Lakers won seven championships. Some time after leaving the Lakers he assumed the same role for the Memphis Grizzlies, and now is working as a consultant to the Golden State Warriors. Throughout his career he has lived with the depression and not sought counseling.
Today he prefers to use Prozac and deal with it on his own. It could be his great work ethic from basketball is helping him, but cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be more effective than anti-depressants. Going it alone is also generally not helpful to people with depression because social isolation can contribute to the condition. Talking regularly with a competent, licensed therapist has helped many people, and it has no side effects like medications can have.
Additionally it can provide thought and behavioral coping skills which are effective over many years. The approach West has employed obviously has worked for him, but cognitive behavioral therapy actually might improve the situation even more. Males particularly seemed to be sort of trained by our society to ‘man up’ and be tough, which does not allow them to express their true emotions, because admitting emotional pain has been wrongly labelled as a sign of weakness. All people have emotions though, and can experience inner pain, low-self esteem and trauma. In such situations working with someone who is trained in how to deal with depression is much better than withdrawing. West’s revelation has generated many news stories and so has already raised some mental health awareness, which is much needed.
A depressed person is simply unwell, not broken or deficient. Healthcare is required often to help the person regain their health, just like when a person has a medical condition like high blood pressure. People who have experienced one episode of depression might be more likely to again in the future.
Image Credit: Rob Poetsch
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