Your Brain Health Episode 19

Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Welcome back. You’re listening to Your Brain Health with Dr. Kristen Willeumier. And I’m pleased to have my guest today, Tracy Murray, 12 year NBA legend here to talk to us about mental health issues in athletes, professional athletes, and he’s sharing his personal story and struggles with depression being a pro athlete. And Tracy, you know, now that we’re back, we see these athletes like Kevin Love and DeMara DeRozan coming out publicly with their very own personal mental health challenges. And again, for those of you who don’t follow basketball, Kevin Love is a power forward with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s bravely discussed his anxiety and panic attacks on the court and having to be hospitalized for it. DeMar DeRozan has come out and talked about his issues with depression and he just put it out on Twitter. So DeMar DeRozan plays for San Antonio spurs when he put out a tweet that he just, he was having a rough day feeling depressed. He got so much support from the community. So we’re seeing now pro athletes are coming out publicly talking about their mental health issues. And here we have Tracy talking about what it’s like to be a professional athlete and why pro athletes struggle. And I don’t think it’s just pro athletes. I think it happens at the collegiate level and the youth level as well. So Tracy, welcome back. Do you want to comment a little bit more on Kevin Love and DeMar, and the possibility of more pro athletes coming out to just help make this the community and people have more of a dialogue around mental health issues.

Tracy Murray: I think with Kevin Love coming out it encouraged his coach Tyron Lue to come out cause Tyron Lou was dealing with it as well. He had to miss, he had to miss games. The pressures of coaching LeBron and the pressures of winning world championships because LeBron James is on your team and now by the way, you have Kevin Love and Kyrie Irvin so there’s tons of pressure on you to win, right? You know, the coaches go through it too, it’s just that we are all from the suck it up generation. Oh just suck it up. You’re making more money. We don’t care. We don’t want to hear about that. You just go play shut up and go play shut up and go coach. That’s what people want to say to us. That’s why LeBron did the documentary shut up and play. You know, it’s like people, people don’t understand that we’re human beings too. We go through the same exact thing that regular humans go through. We’re not robots.

 

So, you know, we have feelings, we have depressants, we have panic attacks, we have anxieties, you know, and I didn’t have the panic attacks or the anxieties, but I was dealing more with the depressant side of it because of you have an anticipation how something is supposed to be, and then you get there and it’s totally different. The reality of it is, you know, they used to put out this commercial and public service announcement back in the early nineties. NBA is fantastic. And then you get in there and you’re like, what happened to fantastic. It’s not that. It’s really, truly a job. It’s a job doing what you love to do. That’s why I say it’s the best job in the world. You love playing basketball. The playing Basketball part of it that you did every day. That was pretty much the sanctuary. That’s pretty much, you know, the, the lab that was the therapeutic part because I’m actually out there doing things that I really do love

Host: Well and the team is a family of sorts. If you’re able to stay on the same team and get along with your team.

Tracy Murray: Yeah, you say the keyword, of sorts, because you got to understand there’s a competition within the circle because the people sitting on the bench don’t want to sit there. They want your spot. The people that are in the middle, probably the most comfortable and, you know, and this goes for the whole NBA. You know, it goes for, it’s not just a team, it’s a bigger spectrum of things here. If you’re on the bottom, you’re fighting like hell to stay in and you don’t want, you got one foot in, one foot out and you’re trying to grab on somebody’s ankle to stay in. If you’re in the middle, you’re in the most comfortable spot, you’re going to play every night or you’re role player or you’re in the most comfortable spot when it comes to keeping your job, your being you, your a worker bee, you’re getting it in 90 night out. At the top there’s anxiety at the top too. You know, because think about the top, we’re talking about DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love. There’s anxiety at the top. The top is not easy either.

Host: Hey, look at the golden state warriors, you know, is, is Kevin Durant feeling it? Is Stephen Curry feeling it? I mean they have the pressure of maintaining a championship team.

Tracy Murray: Right. And you’re talking to somebody that had the unique experience of being in all three spots. I’ve gotten cut, I’ve been in the middle for 11 and a half years of my career, and for half a year I was one of two best players on the team. So when you’re one of two best players on the team, now you’re brought into meetings that has to do with the team. And how it moves forward. Now you brought into corporate sponsorship meetings that you didn’t ask for. You got to do way more appearances. You got to do public service announcements, you’ve got to sell the game of basketball, you got to go be the chairman of charities because there are charities that are connected to the specific team and they want a Raptor and you got to go out there and do that. And which I was doing all of that. But it’s tons of work.

Host: So what comes with the game is not just playing. It’s also being a public personality, and we as the lay public don’t always appreciate all of the pressures that you are under. And you know, we expect you to perform and perform well every night. I mean, there’s what, 86 games in a season. It’s an extraordinary athletic accomplishment just to play in the NBA and play that large number of games. So, and I’m sure, again, these pressures trickled down into top collegiate teams as well. Again, you being on the Bruins. So what you, so you’re a coach now and you have been a coach. How do you use what you’ve learned? Like what do you teach your players as far as being sort of mentally fit? And do you make it you know, just like what we talked to these USC student athletes about, we wanted to encourage them to be able to come and seek psychological support to know that they can come and talk to somebody weekly, whether it’s to help improve their performance, right? Say you’re a three point shooter and you’re not very good, so you can go work with the sports psychologist and work on your mental game or if you’re struggling with some issues. And so what do you do as a coach?

Tracy Murray: I’m not a coach currently I’m a broadcaster but when I was coaching, you know, I did talk to pull them to the side cause I think that’s really important. You can’t address the team as a team because the team, everybody’s too cool. Everybody’s, you know, you know, they don’t want to be looked at as a certain way. I think the best thing to do is, you know, somebody’s struggling, when you see people their physical appearance might change. They might gain some weight or they might come in unkept and then you might looking at them like something is going on. So you pull them to the side and find out if they’re okay and how’s the family you know, is everything okay with you? And if they are comfortable enough, excuse me, to open up to you and give you a little bit of what’s going on with them, then that’s when you can be like, look you know, I know people that’s going through that or I’ve been through that personally. Here is how you can take care of that. Or here is who you can talk to. I have the number because when I was playing, I had a sports psychologist and whenever I was going through some things, I went to him because if you.

Host: You sought out yourself, nobody said, Hey, I think you should go see this person. So I really commend you for doing that.

Tracy Murray: Well, it was brought to me by UCLA because I was, I was struggling my freshman year, you know, my stuff wasn’t really basketball. It was concentrating in the classroom and staying focused in the classroom. So now I’m talking to Dr. [Inaudible 08:52] who is now involved also the NBA Players Association hired him to help out with the players. So now they have the same guy that I worked with when I was in NBA and he also works with UCLA gymnastics. They both come in and talk to UCLA gymnastics from time to time.

Host: Fantastic. Just having the dialogue and knowing that if the student athletes know they have a place to go, that’s safe, that’s confidential, that they have people they can connect with. We’re now helping to bring that mental health conversation out into a public space so people can get the help they need.

Tracy Murray: Right. Like, like the other day on the broadcast, my partner Brantley Josh Lewin asked me, what do you think the Bruins can do to improve their free throw shooting? It’s more than just shooting free throws. I said they need to call Dr. Parham and get him in the practice to talk to these kids to help them mentally push through this block that they have at the free throw line, because it is a situation where you’re 15 feet away from the basket, the basket is 10 foot high. It’s you and the basket, nobody putting a hand in your face, and being a college athlete, you should be able to hit that 70% or higher. Why are the Bruins having problems shooting close to 60% which is one of the worst teams in the country and this is costing them wins and losses. So I told them they need to talk to Dr. Parham. He’s around, he’s local. This is who I talked to. They can’t look at it as being crazy. They have to look at it as if my arm is injured. You get treatment for your arm. If your leg is injured, you get treatment for your leg. So you have to do the same thing with your brain.

Host: You got to do the same thing with your brain. I don’t know if you know this about me. So I used to show horses competitively growing up. I showed for 10 years and had aspirations of going to the Olympics, being Olympic show jumper. And the first career that I was going to do is to be a sports psychologist because I knew showing horses at the level I was showing that there was the mental component to winning and you had to be strong mentally, and mentally prepared. I then went off into neuroscience, but I still think that it’s so important to, I think anybody performing on any level, taking care of your brain, addressing any emotional issues that you might have that might actually be weighing you down, sort of acting like an anchor impacting your ability to perform well at your sport. And I just love that we can now have this kind of discussion and it’s completely acceptable to go see a sports psychologist.

Tracy Murray: It is, but there are still some people though that, that think they’re crazy by doing that. And I think they need to find a way to erase that stigma from their head. You’re not crazy. You’re trying to yourself extend your career for as long as you can because you have a lot of people that you’re supporting, you know, so you know your kids depend on it. Your parents depend on you, your siblings depend on it. You’re trying to extend your career as long as you can. And how do you do that by not being injured? If your mind is free, then your body’s going to be free. You don’t have any stress. As soon as the stress hits and your mind starts being bogged down, then your body goes. You start seeing Achilles injuries, knee injuries, hip injuries, all the ACL, all kinds of stuff because your brain is not free.

Host: What you just said is you have no idea how relevant that is. Usually if I’m looking at somebody’s body and injuries in the body, you know, a lot of times that can originate from something going on in the brain. So I love that you brought that up and I, before we close, I know I’m going to have to wrap this up. I had a student athlete come up to me at our USC event and ask how to differentiate between mental weakness and a mental health issue. And I thought that was such a great question. Like how do you know if you’re just weak, you’re not being strong? Cause as athletes, you know, we have to be strong and tough and win. But how do we know that it’s crossing over into more of that, you know, there’s a depression or an anxiety that really needs to get treated professionally. You know, I responded to her, insert of my more professional opinion, but I’d love to get your thoughts on that.

Tracy Murray: Well, here’s my example of that, I know I’m a mentally tough person. I had a screamer in my dad from the sidelines and you have to block that out and perform. I had a screamer in college. I had to block that out and perform. When I had my injury at 14 years old. And they never told me I ever played again. You have to be mentally tough to come back from an injury and reach heights that you’ve never been before. You have to believe you can do it. You have to, when somebody tells you you’re not good, are you going to believe it or are you going to say, nah, I’m better than that. I’m tougher than that. You know, you got that mentally weak and you basically buying in to what people are saying, and you just shut down.

Host: A judgment. You buy into a judgment that somebody places on you that might not be true. So it’s interesting that question is, this is great for coaching youth sports to sort of teach kids how to own their power and not to give into people’s judgments about them. And it takes a very strong emotionally resilient person to be able to handle that. And sometimes it’s a lot of pressure on kids who are still have developing brains and you know, have all those pressures of academics and, you know, performing on the sport.

Tracy Murray: I think mentally weak is saying, I can’t, when you can, that’s finding the easy way out. That’s mentally weak. Getting help to help extend or to help you achieve is not being mentally weak. That’s, that’s preparing, that’s helping, mentally weak is just saying, I can’t, I give up.

Host: And if you feel that way, you should still go and seek professional counseling to talk that out, to figure out why that is. But you know, when you’ve reached the pro levels, you know, even at the collegiate level, you know, you are not mentally. Right, exactly. Oh my gosh. Tracy, I adore you. You have been a phenomenal guest and have really illuminated my mind and shared more with me and I’m, I’m just sort of thinking now about mental health and athletes and this of course applies to everyone, but you just, you’ve really helped to sort of share what goes on behind the scenes in, you know, pro athletics and why people have these mental health issues. And I love that we have brave people such as yourself and Kevin Love and DeMara DeRozan and all of the people that have come out to just sort of share their personal journey, and how they get through it because it then makes it easier for people like mean, you know, those of us who just might be suffering in silence or suffering quietly and realize we don’t have to. And we can join in community together to do this together.

Tracy Murray: I honestly think between the professional help and just having support, it really helps cause at the end of my career when I was done, that was a major depression because I had no self worth anymore about what I was going to do with the rest of my life because everything that I was identified by is done.

Host: Nobody gave you that transition plan, which worked with a lot of pro athletes. I remember being in psychiatry and neurology, helping them to transition into sort of a more a regular lifestyle. And that is a huge shift.

Tracy Murray: Right, right, right. And between a mental coach. And then honestly, my dad was really instrumental and you know, the support is huge. My dad was very instrumental in getting me out of that bed, raising the shades in my bedroom and saying, you’re 36 years old, get your butt up and figure this thing out.

Host: Didn’t you say your dad was a screamer?

Tracy Murray: Yeah, but he wasn’t a screamer then. You know, he came out of love. Yes. Look, you know, we worked hard. We screamed, we blood, sweat and tears. We did the basketball thing. We did it to the best we could, but I’m not going to let you die here at 36 years old, you know, just shutting your whole life down. Get up, hit the gym. We’re going to all figure this thing out. Find out what you like. What do you want to go into? Start making plans on getting there and making calls and just go there. Now I found out about broadcasting. Okay, take a broadcast class but you can’t do it laying in bed. Get out there and get busy. And so my dad was definitely a huge part of that.

Host: And I think that’s such a great note to end on saying if you see somebody who’s struggling, you know, be that sense of support, you know, check in with people, call them, you know, if they’re not getting up to go out and actively engage in life, be that person that helps sort of bring a little more light into their life, and support them. And I just, I think it’s great what you’re doing and Tracy, where can people find you?

Tracy Murray: You can find me at real Tracy Murray on Twitter, at real Tracy L Marie on Instagram and real Tracy Murray on Facebook.

Host: I love it. Well, I’m going to have to have you back. I want to thank you for coming on today sharing your personal story and I know I’m going to see you at the next college tour event with Eric and I’m hoping to take UCLA right. I’ve heard, hopefully. All right, my friend. Have a great rest of your day.

Tracy Murray: Thank you. You too.

Host: Okay, bye. Bye. This is Dr. Kristen Willeumier with Your Brain Health. Today we were honored to have Tracy Murray, 12 year NBA veteran who was kind enough to share his personal story with depression and I think what we all have to acknowledge here is we may struggle with mental health issues from time to time, and the goal is to go out and connect with somebody for support, whether that’s your friends, your family, or seeking somebody professionally. It’s been an honor having you listen. If you want to reach out to connect with me, you can find me at DrWilleymier.com. Have a wonderful rest of your day.

Conclusion: You’ve been listening to Your Brain Health with Dr. Kristen Willeumier, for more information or to contact Dr. Willeumier, visit DrWilleumier.com. That’s D, R, W, I, L, L, E, U, M, I, E, R.com.