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A first-hand story of mental illness

Royce White was drafted by the Houston Rockets in last year’s NBA draft.

Prior to being selected he told NBA teams he has a severe fear of flying. His fear is so severe he has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

The Rockets drafted White anyways. After a bumpy start negotiating the team seemed like they intended to work with him. It took three months, but they finally reached an agreement at the end of January. At the time White said, “(the Rockets) acknowledged I have a disorder, and it does have to be reasonably accommodated.”

The Rockets were going to accommodate White’s anxieties by sending him to play with their developmental league team. The team had 21 games left this season, only seven were on the road. White would be able to travel to most of those games on a bus.

But now, in an interview with the Huffington Post, White said he feels a little differently about the agreement. He thinks it seems the team and the league would just rather not deal with his mental illness.

If I was to make an educated guess, I would guess that (NBA executive) Adam Silver and David Stern (NBA Commissioner) and the Rockets organization, some other owners in the league, GMs, want me gone. And why do they want me gone? Because business is about convenience, not about doing what’s necessary. It’s about cutting overhead… And a lot of times, what’s best for us as human beings doesn’t meet that criteria for business people.

He’s probably right. Outta sight, outta mind.

My experience with mental illness was similar to White’s. During my sophomore year in college, I was diagnosed with depression. At the time, I was working part-time for a supermarket and the manager I worked with didn’t handle it well. I told her about the depression and she didn’t care. She thought my depression was momentary sadness, something I should just snap out of.

That reaction highlighted her lack of understanding, and since she didn’t understand my struggle finding the will to live, she was in no mood to accommodate me when I asked for a more flexible work schedule.

Eventually, I ended up taking an unpaid medical leave from the company so I could focus on getting treatment and I didn’t have to deal with that store manager anymore. When I returned to work a few months later, I made sure to work in a different store under a different manager.

I’m not arguing for companies to bend over backwards and give special accommodations for everyone. People will eventually take advantage, but I am arguing for more understanding of mental illness from both businesses and from people in general, whether that is with depression or Royce White’s fear of flying.

Mental illness is real. It affects millions of people. One study suggests the number affected could be as high as 26.2 percent. Ignoring it won’t make it go away, nor will telling people to get over it.

But having open and honest discussions will help get rid of the stigma of mental illness.