Mental illness is nothing to joke about, and professional athletes are not immune to it. Athletes like Metta World Peace are trying to do their part to help destigmatize mental illness among their fellow athletes.
“I don’t feel bad about telling somebody I see a psychologist. I don’t feel that you should feel bad about improving yourself. And then if you tell people that you’re trying to improve yourself, they’re going to want to improve themselves and not be embarrassed about going to see a psychologist,” Metta World Peace told HuffPost Live last week.
Maybe the Los Angeles Laker could reach out to one athlete who needs help: Delonte West.
West was spotted wandering Westheimer Road in Houston by a fan, who then posted photos of the former NBA player on Instagram. The posts, which have since been made private, were then sent to TMZ.
Instagram user @shoun_htx told TMZ that he noticed West wandering around shoeless and wearing a hospital gown under his shirt. The Instagram user asked West if he was truly Delonte West, and he replied, "I used to be, but I’m not about that life anymore."
West’s mental-health issues were made public in 2008 after he spoke about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After his diagnosis, he took a leave of absence from the Cleveland Cavaliers and returned to his hometown of Washington, D.C., for counseling and began using medication to help him with his issues.
In the Washington Post last year, reporter Rick Maese chronicled the athlete’s downward spiral:
Shortly after Cleveland collapsed in the playoffs, someone started an unfounded—but well circulated—rumor that the Cavaliers had lost because James had discovered West was romantically involved with the superstar’s mother. West has repeatedly denied the story.
Then, on the night of Sept. 17, 2009, West was pulled over for an improper lane change as he rode his three-wheeled Can-Am Spyder motorcycle on Route 214, not far from his Fort Washington home. He told the officer he had a handgun in his waistband. A subsequent search found three guns—a Beretta 9mm in West’s waistband, a Ruger .357 magnum strapped to his leg and a shotgun in a guitar case slung over his back. Each gun was loaded.
West pled guilty to two of the eight charges he faced and was sentenced to eight months of home detention, two months of probation and 40 hours of community service.
The incident—and much of West’s career that followed—was viewed through the prism of mental illness. He blew through money. During the 2011 NBA lockout, he applied for a job at a Home Depot and worked briefly at a Brandywine furniture store. And he cracked weird jokes on Twitter. “Broke down in the ATM line,” he tweeted one day. “25 cars behind me and I already reached my daily limit … I’m broke n my cars broke. Where’s my therapist???”
Maese wrote that West considered his diagnosis “overblown” and that he wasn’t taking his medication.
“I am bipolar—just like the rest of us in the world,” West said. “So bipolar is defined as something sad happens, you’re sad. Something happy happens, you’re happy. I think pretty much everyone in the world is like that. Now, there’s different levels. How long do you stay sad? How does it affect your behavior? How do you handle these emotions?”
It’s sad to see the life of someone who had a great NBA career spiral out of control.