Ron Artest Is Now a Mental Health Spokesman

2 09 2010

Ron Artest has never been mistaken for a well-adjusted human being. Between the oft-cited Palace brawl and his penchant for holding photoshoots with scantily-clad women for no media outlets in particular, Ron-Ron typically does whatever he wants with little interest in whether or not it conforms to established behavior for athletes, not to mention humans.

So it should come as little surprise that the news below has been met with a few jokes. From the San Gabriel Valley Tribune:

Apparently, he has teamed up with Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (no, really, I’m serious) to raise awareness about mental health stigma’s and advocate for the Mental Health in Schools Act, a.k.a. HR 2531.

Those who watched the Lakers beat the Celtics in this year’s NBA Finals remember Ron thanking his psychiatrist in his post game comments. […]

UPDATED: Nathan Landers, spokesman for Napolitano, tells me that the Montebello school involved is already practicing some of the mental health items that are proposed in the bill. Apparently, the Congresswoman started the health program there previously.

The jokes have been simple and harmless — both Trey Kerby and Kurt Helin have poked fun at the fact that a wacko like Artest would become the spokesman for dealing with mental health problems. It’s the first thing you think of when this pairing was announced, and you can’t really fault Trey and Kurt considering they go on to laud Artest for becoming involved in this excellent cause.

Still, there’s a tone to the commentary that exemplifies many misconceptions about mental health. Both discuss how Ron-Ron has “figured it out” or “gotten his mind right,” but the realities of mental health are more complicated than that — it’s less about fixing identifiable problems and more about finding better ways of coping and living with the situation.

After his excellent Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Ron thanked his therapist for helping him gain the confidence to become a champion. Yet it’s not as if this was a simple cause-and-effect relationship, like he could just undergo therapy and come out on the other side as a perfectly functioning basketballing person. (It should also be noted that the inverse of this misconception is also false — he didn’t succeed on the court in spite of his problems.) It’s better to say that Artest learned how to become a champion while dealing with his own emotional issues.

Watch Ron off and on the court, and it’s clear that he hasn’t overcome all of his darker and weirder thoughts. But it’s not practical or useful to think about mental health as something that can ever become perfect (for anyone, really, not just those with obvious problems), and we shouldn’t speak of Artest’s development like he’s gotten to that point or will anytime soon.

Instead, he’s simply become more aware of himself and has become more adept at dealing with his issues. He’s taking some of the first steps in treatment that he should have undergone long ago. Telling kids that these avenues exist and are nothing to be ashamed of is an extremely important task and a sign that Ron-Ron can become an important spokesman for these causes even after his career finishes.

But speaking of him as a success story isn’t exactly right. He’s just dealing with his issues and getting better at it every day. That’s all we can ask of — and hope for — anyone.