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The power of a tweet: how DeMar DeRozan changed the game

U of T professor praises former Raptors player for his openness on mental health
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SKYLAR CHEUNG/THE VARSITY
SKYLAR CHEUNG/THE VARSITY

In the early morning of February 17, 2018, former Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan posted a short but impactful tweet: “This depression get the best of me…”

Those seven words caused a storm in the sports and psychology realms alike. So much so that U of T Faculty of Medicine Associate Professor of Psychiatry Mark Sinyor felt moved to write an op-ed about it for the Toronto Star.

In the article, Sinyor explained how Derozan’s willingness to share his struggle with depression has allowed for a conversation about mental health both in and out of sport to develop. He told the Star that, especially for young male fans, who make up a large portion of the NBA’s viewer base, mental health issues are often seen as a chink in the armour, or a sign of failure.

“It’s a constant battle because illnesses like depression make sufferers feel hopeless and many, especially men, still have the tragic impression that seeking help is weak or even shameful,” he wrote. By opening up, even with a simple tweet, DeRozan proved to fans and fellow players alike that you could be a four-time NBA All-Star, two-time All-NBA Team member, and an Olympian, and still struggle with mental health issues like depression. These struggles aren’t indicative of failure, but rather, they are a challenge worth overcoming.

Sinyor wrote that he is sure that DeRozan’s story impacted many, especially young male fans, who are susceptible to burying mental health struggles and worsening them as a result. “They saw it and said to themselves, ‘DeMar is fighting this and winning… Maybe I can too.’”

In an email to The Varsity, Sinyor explained that “the reason that efforts to decrease stigma are so important in sport is because [they reach] such a wide audience and, in the case of men’s basketball, an audience of men that is often socialized not to talk about their feelings.”

This is what inspired him to write the piece. In his own experience as a psychiatrist at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, he “heard echoes of the voices in [his] office” in DeRozan’s divulsion. Also an academic, Sinyor devotes most of his expertise to “spreading messages of resilience because research shows that resilience is actually contagious.” DeRozan’s simple tweet was a clear message of resilience, resounding across the NBA and leading to an explosion of solidarity.

Enthusiastic to keep DeRozan’s momentum going, Sinyor expressed that “my hope is that efforts by DeRozan and people like him will make it easier for everyone to speak up about their mental health struggles and to reach out for help when needed.”

The prevalence of the mental health conversation in professional sports seems to be increasing, and athletes are likely to keep moving the conversation forward as these issues continue to come to light.