Alliance Profile - Michael Sweetney
Naismith College Player of the Year Finalist, Selected 9th Overall in the 1st Round of the 2003 NBA Draft by the Knicks
What past life experiences, physical traumas or genetics do you believe have had an effect on your mental health?
The event that changed my life tremendously, was the sudden loss of my father. He was the one who introduced me to the game of basketball. I was in the NBA Rookie Transition Program (with all these rookies about to enter the league the same time as me, on top of the world, all of us were about to start our careers).
That’s when I got the tragic call that my dad had passed. A time that was supposed to be a high point, with others, I was devastated and confused because I had just spoken with him THAT morning. After just being drafted by the New York Knicks, having my dreams come true – this nightmare happened and absolutely shook my world.
How did the effects on your mental health appear in terms of symptoms?
This turn of events had a major impact on my mental health. I became angry, confused, and very guarded – not letting anyone in. I tried to use basketball as my outlet, but when things weren’t going my way on the court, it felt like I couldn’t escape my difficult feelings anywhere, and like no matter what I did, I couldn’t find peace of mind.
I felt this need to force a smile and tell everyone that everything was OK, because “I’m a man and NBA player,” so how could I possibly feel something like “depression.”
Living that life for years and denying how I really felt, eventually caught up with me, and sent my mental health to an even worse place. I felt suicidal feelings.
When and why did you decide to ask for help to get relief?
What made me eventually seek out help – was after my NBA career, when I got the news that my wife was pregnant with my son. I knew as the person I was at that moment, I couldn’t be a great father figure to my son, the way that my dad was to me. I wanted my dad to be proud of me, and I knew I had to make a change in order to be the best father I could be.
I had to find the right counselor to understand me. When I found that counselor, it helped me to finally accept and process: my father’s death, my NBA career not going the way I’d wanted it to, and it allowed me to open up and let more people in.
What methods helped you individually get/feel better?
I use transparent communication (opening up about how I’m feeling and not keeping it in), meditation and prayer, daily, to help me stay on a positive path.
Why did you decide to go public with your story? Who were/are you hoping to help and how?
I shared my story because I got tired of the wrong narrative about my life being out there and believed by others.
The New York Post did an article on me, and I was able to talk about my background story and about how those situations had led to me developing depression.
That was the first time I’d ever shared my story to outsiders – about how these events had impacted my mental health.
The response was very humbling to to me and made me want to keep sharing my #SameHere story to keep inspiring and changing lives.
How did people react when you went public with your story?
The reaction from people really surprised me. I received so much support. Many people told me about their own struggles and shared testimonies of their own mental health challenges. This all made me feel like I was simply – Human – and that others out there share similar feelings with me.
This great reaction gave me the drive to keep pushing and change and save more and more lives.