Rob Oller | D.J. Carton getting help he needs is welcome change to how mental health is approached

Rob Oller
Ohio State freshman guard D.J. Carton is among the Big Ten freshman leaders in scoring and assists. [Dispatch file photo]

Old-school thinking: Suck it up, D.J. Carton. Everyone has problems. Just play basketball.

New thinking: Good for you, D.J. Carton. Way to be smart by taking steps to care for your mental health.

Fortunately, the new and better thinking is outflanking the old more and more every day.

I don't know what kind of mental health issue Carton is dealing with, but it is serious enough that the Ohio State freshman point guard is stepping away from the program for an indefinite period.

Carton posted on Twitter on Thursday evening: “I felt it was important to be transparent as to why I'm taking this break. I have been suffering with mental health issues for a couple years.”

Old-school: Keep your personal problems to yourself.

New: Thank you, D.J., for speaking out on such an important topic as mental health. You are chipping away at the stigma that says it shows weakness to ask for help.

Carton's coming forward marks another example of one person's transparency helping another. Within 12 hours of Carton's Twitter post, Nationwide Children's Hospital received an email from a man in Virginia thanking Carton for providing the final push needed for him to seek help.

The man also credited Ohio State football coach Ryan Day for partnering with Nationwide Children's in the “On Our Sleeves” campaign that encourages young people to feel empowered to speak up about their own mental health.

“In his email, he wrote that 'Ryan Day woke me up and D.J. Carton spurred me to action,'” said Karri Schildmeyer, senior director of corporate alliance marketing at Nationwide Children's Hospital. “People are feeling a lot more comfortable talking about mental health.”

And not just talking, but actively pursuing counseling and treatment. What once was considered a weakness mentioned only in whispers is now a condition openly discussed.

Schildmeyer estimated that only in the past five years has society begun to value the importance of bringing mental health issues out of the shadows.

“You wonder about when we were young and facing something, but we didn't know how to talk about it,” she said, adding, “Maybe people are beginning to recognize that there is help.”

As an adolescent in the 1970s, my only touchpoint for getting help for mental health issues was “The Bob Newhart Show” and its comic depiction of a Chicago psychologist and his weekly patients, whose neuroses were exaggerated for laughs. Therapy as punchline was not a welcoming call to seek support.

We know better today that depression and related mental health issues are no laughing matter. Instead of expressing disgust for those who suffer, we offer sympathy and push to discuss.

Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers reached out to Carton on Friday via Twitter to offer support.

“So much love and respect for you D.J.,” Love tweeted. “You're going to come back stronger than ever.”

Love's message had to feel to Carton like Einstein encouraging a college math student, considering the Cavs player has become an advocate for not just getting mentally healthy, but going public with it.

Love had a panic attack during a game in 2017 that scared and confused him into counseling, and last year he addressed his mental health issues in The Players Tribune.

“We're all going through something that we can't see,” he wrote.

It doesn't matter what the “something” is. It could be college athletes dealing with the added stresses of social media — Day has mentioned how he noticed players checking Twitter during halftime to see what fans are saying about their performances. It could be the constant pressure of coaching — Ohio State men's basketball coach Chris Holtmann regularly sees a mental health professional during the season — or it could be unrelated to sports.

The why is less important than what to do about it. Carton is addressing the what. It's another win for new thinking.


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