Bassey Ikpi on Ron Artest‘s shout-out to his therapist after the Lakers clinched the title yesterday:
Shouldn’t this man be praised for getting the help that he obviously needed? Why is he being mocked and made the brunt of jokes? Was the shout out unexpected? Yes. But it should not be shamed. The amount of courage and bravery it takes to admit that you need mental health assistance and to get it is incredible. It’s no easy feat. Black men, especially, are the least likely to seek treatment for mental illness. Does this mean that they are the least likely to have a mental illness in their lifetime?
It simply means that they don’t get the help they need. If the reaction to Artest’s confession is any indication, I can’t say that I’m shocked.
I’ve been speaking openly about my own journey with mental illness for over 5 years now and without fail, there is always someone (or someone(s)) who wants to shame me or make me feel somehow unworthy of respect or understanding because I’m a “mad woman”. Mental illness is often purposefully looked upon as a sign of weakness. People go out of their way not to understand in a ways they wouldn’t dare for other illnesses. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental illness is more common than diabetes, heart diseases and cancer. 1 in every 4 people will have one or more mental illness in their lifetime. Do you have any idea how many people that is? Yet we still allow stigma and hurtful comments to keep us from speaking out or seeking treatment.
It’s hard not to agree with Ikpi’s point that taking the stigma away from mental health treatment would go a long way toward ameliorating some of the issues that plague marginalized communities. Artest has a lot of obvious advantages in seeking out treatment, including employers who are very invested in him doing so. We should all be so fortunate.
I think that part of the reaction to Artest’s shout-out wasn’t really shame, but the way what he said it fits into the larger Ron-Ron-being-Ron-Ron meme. After escalating the infamous near-riot at Auburn Hills* that threatened his career and seriously hurt the NBA, he gave a bizarre live interview in which he spent most of the time promoting his new CD. When he played for the Chicago Bulls, he applied for a job at a local Circuit City because he wanted to avail himself of the employee discount. (The team found out and stopped it after the store called Jerry Krause, the Bulls’ GM, who Artest listed as a reference.) Artest has become sort of famous for his candor, but also a kind of guilelessness. I think that’s why in my tiny little corner end of the Twitterverse, I saw so many people tweeting things like “I love Ron Artest” after his postgame chat (in which he again shouted out his latest music), because he seems at once really sensitive to how he’s perceived and incapable of anything but saying what’s on his mind.
*I almost forgot how unsettling this incident was. Damn.