by Michael J. Fitzpatrick, Executive Director
One of my favorite fall traditions is tuning in to watch the exciting postseason Major League Baseball (MLB) games.
The 2010 World Series is fast-approaching and while the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers are each hoping to be named American League champion, and the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants vie for the National League title, there are also some really encouraging off-the-field developments to report.
MLB is setting a new standard in professional sports by acknowledging and supporting athletes who struggle with mental health problems.
This month’s NAMI Advocate magazine explores some of the ways in which MLB’s culture of silence surrounding mental illness is now evolving into a culture of understanding and support.
Stigma can be a barrier to anyone seeking mental health treatment, but as a society that holds professional athletes up on pedestals, I think we sometimes forget that athletes face many of the same challenges that can affect any of us in our personal lives, including mental illness.
Unfortunately, the pressure to appear strong and invincible sometimes deters baseball players and others from seeking mental health support when they need it.
A baseball player’s job performance, unlike most of our work, is played out in front of tens of thousands of fans, night after night, in between coast-to-coast travel. Long stretches of time away from family and friends at home add additional stresses. In the past, baseball players with mental health issues often felt they could not share their struggles, fearing that mental illness will be perceived as a weakness and not an illness.
While a culture of silence once deterred people from seeking help, MLB is working to offer avenues of support.
Today, players can now take time off to address any mental health concerns, using resources from the team franchise or elsewhere, in the same manner they would use for any other illness or injury.
Five players were on the disabled list (DL) for emotional issues during the 2009 season-- the most in any single MLB season to date. While this number may not seem impressive, it’s the largest number in any single season to date and indicates that gradually players are becoming more comfortable in seeking mental health support.
We appreciate the work MLB is doing to encourage players to get help when they need it, as we all know early interventions have the best outcomes. We also hope that as more players and athletes in other sports come forward, that they will encourage their own fans to seek help if they or a loved one need it.