Ron Artest 2, Stigma 0

by Cody Dolan on December 21, 2010 · 1 comment

in mental health,stigma

When last we left Ron Artest, he was thanking his psychiatrist for helping him relax enough to play basketball at a high level. He was so excited to have won an NBA Championship that he seemingly thanked everyone he’d met during his career, and nonchalantly slipped his therapist’s name in there for good measure. The psychiatric community grabbed hold of this passing reference and used it to illustrate just how far we’ve come in the fight against stigma. Here’s the video in case you missed it last time:

Now Artest is going one step further. On December 8, the Los Angeles Lakers forward announced that he’ll be donating “either all or some” of his 2011-2012 salary to mental health awareness charities. You can read the full article, but allow me to nutshell it for you.

THIS IS BIG NEWS! And I’m not the only one who thinks so!

You probably want more analysis than that, don’t you? No problem.

The man is scheduled to make $6.79 million in salary this season, and has made more than $50 million over the course of his NBA career. I know that some people will say something like “Well, he can afford to give so this isn’t a big deal.” Of course, anyone who says that more than likely hasn’t thought through just what this kind of donation can mean. I don’t care how much money you make, donating a significant portion of your yearly income represents an enormous commitment to a cause.

The possibilities

$6.79 million is a lot of money. In the right hands, it’s world- or life-changing money. I once asked Dr. Tom Ellis, the man in charge of Menninger’s Suicide Prevention Research Project, what it would mean if we in the Development Office were able to raise $100,000 for him this year. Dr. Ellis paused for a moment, and I could tell he wasn’t sure how to best illustrate how much he could do with that money. He settled on saying,

“It’d be night and day. I just thought of everything $100,000 would allow us to do, the amount of data we’d be able to collect that could help people struggling with suicidal thoughts and urges, and I think night and day is the best analogy. At the risk of sounding cliché, we’d be able to shine an enormously powerful light on some pretty dark thoughts.”

Mental illness isn’t like cancer or hospitals that treat sick children. There aren’t a lot of donors lining up to give institutions like Menninger the eight-figure gifts you see M. D. Anderson Cancer Center or Texas Children’s Hospital receiving every year. When patients leave Menninger they’re often focused on staying well and taking it one day at a time. Menninger has a patient alumni group, but it’s focused on helping former patients stay on their wellness programs, and not on funneling donations back to The Clinic.

Celebrities and causes

There aren’t a lot of celebrity spokespeople out there willing to film commercials about giving to mental health like there are for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which annually garners the likes of Robin Williams and Jennifer Aniston. Their most recent national commercial features Morgan Freeman, who, I believe, has played God and the President more than anyone else alive, talking to and about sick children during prime time television.

Mental health has Joe Pantoliano giving in interview to the A.V. Club about his foundation. Now Pantoliano is a fantastic actor who played key roles in pop culture touchstones like The Sopranos and The Matrix, but he’s hardly a household name. And an interview with a website, no matter how widely read, will obviously garner much less attention than a commercial that shows both a famous actor and the adorable children the hospital treats.

I know you’re thinking that there are obvious flaws here. Artest is waiting until July 1, 2011, to announce the details of his giving. He’s vague about what “either all or some” of his salary means, and clearly “some” could mean as little as $1. Ron Artest is, shall we say, mercurial, and so I could easily see him changing his mind in the next seven months.

But read that article again, and focus on Artest’s words at the end. The man has clearly found his passion, and the mental health community stands to benefit. Isn’t that worth celebrating?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Peter S K Lynch December 21, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Good to see athletes (even Ron Artest) acknowledging that they, too, are human.

Please check out my semi-autobiographical account of a young man’s struggles with bipolar disorder and his descent into madness:

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