Kobe Bryant’s Legacy Also Includes Mental Health Advocacy: ‘It Is Not a Sign of Weakness’
The NBA legend understood the importance of ending the stigma attached to mental illness
January 27, 2020
Kobe Bryant will be remembered as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and an excellent father to his children, including 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who tragically died Sunday in the same helicopter crash with seven other people. But in a 2018 interview, the NBA legend also makes it very clear he understood what it’s like to struggle with mental health, and had a clear vision for ending the stigma attached to it.
“I think mental health is extremely important,” he said in a 2018 interview at a WHY WE RISE event in Los Angeles. “It’s an issue that is now coming to the forefront, but in the past, it’s been an issue that was pushed down, neglected, either out of embarrassment or believing that you’re the only one that is experiencing it. But now it’s coming to the forefront, and I think it’s a great time to address some of those issues and challenges, [and] try to use those as a source of strength.”
The career Lakers star, who spent 20 years with the team and helped them win 5 NBA championship titles, partnered with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health two years ago to participate in its annual 10-day community movement designed to crush the stigma of mental health through the acknowledgement of our collective experience.
In Bryant’s mind, the first step was setting the record straight on a common misunderstanding of mental illness.
“At first I think it’s getting over this stigma of it being something that is embarrassing or a sign of weakness. It is not a sign of weakness; I think that is step one,” he explained. “And then it’s opening up and sharing that experience with others. That’s how you build a community of strength, right?”
“By getting others to open up and share their journeys and share their stories, you end up inspiring each other,” he continued. “And you know how that goes. Once that inspiration goes back and forth, that energy feeds on itself. I think the best thing we can do is not ignore it. Ignoring is the worst thing we can do, because then it festers, and it has control over us, instead of the other way around.”
He also understood that managing or improving mental health is a process. Nothing happens overnight. As an 18-time NBA All-Star, Bryant understood all accomplishments require practice and dedication.
“We rise, but we rise step by step. It’s not one quantum leap, right?” he said. “I see so many kids get so discouraged, because they’re expecting to make this quantum leap, and when that quantum leap doesn’t come, it feels like it will never come. But that’s not how it works. It’s step by step, one foot in front of the other, day by day.”
“Get better every single day,” he added, “and then when you look back, you look down, you realize the mountain you just scaled. But you can’t jump from the bottom of Mt. Everest to get to the top. Superman is only in the comics.”
Bryant ended the interview by advocating for our society to “accept, not ignore” the challenge of improving mental health.
“We accept any other challenge that is presented in front of us, mental health is no different. So let’s face that challenge individually, but realize we’re facing that challenge collectively.”
If you are struggling with your mental health and need to speak with a crisis counselor, call the 24/7 WHY WE RISE hotline at 1-800-854-7771.
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