NBA increasing mental health resources for players during season restart

Once the NBA resumes its season in a controlled environment, players will have more to worry about than winning. They will have varying concerns about how the resumed season could affect their mental health.

Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward will be away from his pregnant wife, Robyn, and children until she is due to give birth sometime in September.

"It’s definitely a stressful time for us," said Hayward, whose wife and children are moving to Indianapolis to be near family while he is with the Celtics as part of the NBA’s 2019-20 restart at the ESPN Disney Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal said players are concerned about being isolated on a campus where their leaving is discouraged. If a person on campus leaves, the person is subject to more testing and additional quarantine time.

"We can’t just leave," Beal said. "We can’t just order whatever food we want. We can’t just do activities which we want to do. We can’t go to our teammate’s room. There’s a lot of (expletive) we can’t do. It’s tough. I get it from a mental wellness standpoint."

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There is the COVID-19 pandemic worry but also a mental health and wellness aspect to life inside the bubble-like environment that is concerning. It will be addressed.

"There’s no doubt there’s tremendous sacrifice that everyone is making who’s going to be part of this campus in order to restart the league, and so we’re going to have to keep a close eye on these issues," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said.

Taking a proactive approach, the NBA established various mental health resources.

On-site clinical services

This provides direct services to players, staff, referees and others, and the mental health professional will also serve as a general resource for sharing information and fielding questions, and will be the point person in case of a mental health emergency.

Off-site clinical services

Each team was required prior to the start of this season to have a mental health clinician, and existing and additional services will be provided via tele-health if that person isn’t on campus. The NBA will also make additional phone and video consults available.

Wellness resources

Self-care will be encouraged through several activities, including "yoga, meditation, recreational rooms with video games, cards, ping pong … as well as team excursions including bowling, boating, fishing and golf."

Addressing issues through advocacy and conversations

The NBA acknowledged the uncertainty and unrest "with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and following the tragic killings of unarmed Black Americans and will continue to address these traumatic experiences and their impacts on mental health by providing safe spaces to process these experiences, especially while individuals are physically distanced from their respective communities, while also discussing ways to be part of the collective solution."

Smartphone app

The NBA Campus app will provide mental health resource tools, including access to an on-site clinician 24/7.

"Mental health is the biggest thing that a lot of us players think of first, right, because although a lot of us always look like we’re all together or that we’re fine, which most people do. That’s not always the case, especially coming out of quarantine and a lot of us being in situations that we’ve never been in before, and now we’re going into an even tougher situation," Oklahoma City Thunder guard and National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul said.

Mental health has received significant attention in recent seasons, and the league believes these are necessary additions, and in some cases continuations of programs already established through the NBA’s Mind Health program. Players and staff will be updated on these services when they check in to the campus.

Also, NBPA player wellness counselor Keyon Dooling will be onsite and available to players for part of the restart, and NBPA director of mental health and wellness Dr. William Parham will be available for off-site services.

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The WNBA will provide "comparable mental health resources to players, coaches, staff and referees onsite, including on-site clinical services through a mental health professional, a dedicated off-site mental health professional, as well as campus wellness resources and critical conversations" for its restart at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

Hundreds of NBA players and staffers will be away from family, isolated for possibly three months. While understanding the hardships of others, this remains a difficult request under less than ideal conditions.

"We’re all humans. We’re all part of families," Los Angles Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka said. "I can’t say it doesn’t impact all of us. Have I had nights at dinner where I’ll look over and my 10-year-old daughter has tears in her eyes and I ask her why and she says, 'It’s because daddy could be gone for 3½ months'? Yes, that stuff is part of this."

Jenna Rosen is a professor of psychiatry at Tulane University and the New Orleans Pelicans’ director of mental health and wellness. She has played a significant role during the league’s shutdown, meeting with players as a group and individually. Rosen, who also works with the Tulane Institute of Sports Medicine focusing on emotional wellness, will conduct similar sessions with players on campus.

Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin understands the mental undertaking and appreciates Rosen's work.

"We’re going to make that a focus of what we do," Griffin said. "It’s going to be a built-in part of our practice time. Literally every day that we practice in the bubble, we will have mental preparedness. We will work through mindfulness training with Jenna literally every day, because it’s paramount to our success there.

"Again, when I said this is going to be about who wants to be there more, it’s going to be about who can keep themselves in the best frame of mind quite frankly, to stay on task, not think about the enormity of what’s going on. We’re going to invest a great deal of our time and energy on that side of things."

The Lakers, who are favored to win the Western Conference, could be inside the controlled environment for three months.

"It is going to be as much as a physical grind as its going to be a mental grind," Pelinka said. "And I think the mental component might even be more paramount, and so yes, we’ve been working with mental wellness people on staff here and we’ve been working with them on developing a protocol to address some of the concerns that are going to come up from an extended time away from family or an extended time living in a city that’s not your home."

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

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