NBA requires teams to hire full-time mental health staff

At a mandatory health and wellness meeting for National Basketball Association (NBA) team owners in Chicago last week, new rules and requirements for all 30 teams were set.

The NBA adopted new rules that would require teams to hire at full-time licensed mental health care professionals to their full-time staff. The teams can add either a psychologist or a behavioral therapist. Starting in the 2019-2020 season, teams are also required to retain a licensed psychiatrist who can assist the team if the need arises.

In the event of mental health emergencies, the teams are supposed to make a written action plan. The team must let players and staff members know about their plan to keep confidentiality and privacy over these mental health concerns.

“I think this meeting itself represents an opportunity for teams to share out and gradually build a collection of best practice so that the rising tide of this all shifts. What we’re seeing is teams willing to embrace, sort of holistically, the question of how do we do better, how do we do more for everyone?” said Jamila Wideman, NBA vice president of player development.

The mental health of NBA players is not a new issue at all. In an interview with the New York Post back in July, former first-round draft pick Royce White said that when he spoke about his fear of flying and other anxiety issues seven years ago, he was blackballed from the league.

When he joined the Houston Rockets that year, he found out that the NBA did not have any written policy regarding mental health. White has advocated for the NBA to put a better mental health system in place.

The new rules set by the NBA comes at the heel of the revelation by players like Cleveland Cavaliers’ five-time NBA All-Star player Kevin Love and others who have dealt with their mental health concerns before and during their NBA stints.

Kevin Love and former Boston Celtics player Keyon Dooling shared their experiences through personal essays published on The Players’ Tribune.

Love shares how he had a panic attack in 2017 while in the middle of a game against the Atlanta Hawks.

“It was like my body was trying to say to me, You’re about to die. I ended up on the floor in the training room, lying on my back, trying to get enough air to breathe,” wrote Love.

Love’s discussion of his struggles with anxiety and depression with the public and his major panic attack in 2017 have helped the NBA Players Association to open their eyes and draw a new plan last season to assist professional basketball players who are struggling with mental health issues and issues brought by the game.

In May 2018, the National Basketball Players Association announced a mental health and wellness program. This program is being led by psychologist William D. Parham. Keyon Dooling is the Player Wellness Counselor of the program.

The program allows players to reach out to licensed mental health professionals in a city where there’s an existing NBA team. This initiative is different from the new rules announced by the NBA.

In February, during the Sloan Conference in Boston, the commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, spoke about emphasizing mental health.

Through his observations and meet-ups with players, Silver said there seem to be lingering and prevailing feelings of melancholy and loneliness in the NBA.

“What strikes me is that they’re truly unhappy. A lot of these young men are genuinely unhappy,″ said Silver.

The new guidelines that the NBA have are perhaps the most important steps that the league has undertaken in terms of mental health.

“I would point back to the way that many players have begun to tell their stories and I think that alone is a hand that is reaching out, and I think what we’re trying to do at the league is to embrace that,” said Wideman.

“Seeing more conversations, hearing more conversations is a sign of success that we’re normalizing the issue. The more that quite frankly we think of it in the same ways that we already think about physical health when those conversations become more integrated I think that’ll be another sign of success,” Wideman adds.

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