Kevin Love, the NBA and Depression: Panic Attack vs. Panic Disorder

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On the January night Kevin Love left the Cleveland Cavaliers blowout loss to Oklahoma City citing a “medical issue,” some in the media called Love “soft” and some players even hinted that the five-time All Star quit on his team. 

What they didn’t know was that Love was in the middle of a panic attack, something he’s been suffering with for years but had never admitted publicly. Love recently shared his experience in an article in The Players’ Tribune, saying he was inspired to share his story after fellow NBA player DeMar DeRozan went public about his battles with depression. After Love’s story was published, the Washington Wizards’ Kelly Oubre Jr. said he, too, suffers from anxiety and depression.

“I’ve never been comfortable sharing much about myself. I turned 29 in September and for pretty much 29 years of my life I have been protective about anything and everything in my inner life. I was comfortable talking about basketball — but that came natural,” Love wrote. “It was much harder to share personal stuff, and looking back now I know I could have really benefited from having someone to talk to over the years. But I didn’t share — not to my family, not to my best friends, not in public. Today, I’ve realized I need to change that.”

Dr. David Tolin, director of the Institute of Living’s Anxiety Disorders Center, says is it’s encouraging when high-profile athletes and celebrities come forward to speak of their struggles with mental health.

“So often people who have these kinds of problems might think they’re the only one, or that it’s shameful, or that others will view it as a sign of weakness,” says Dr. Tolin. “None of these things are true.  The fact of the matter is a lot of people struggle with these kinds of problems and it’s good to see someone come forward and acknowledge it.” 

Dr. Tolin says that panic attacks are quite common and usually are not something to be overly concerned about.  But people who experience recurrent attacks might have panic disorder and should seek professional help, Tolin says.

“For people with panic disorder they become nervous and are constantly worried that they’re going to have another attack and they don’t know what to do,” he says.  “It becomes a vicious cycle. A person with panic disorder has a fear of fear so they worry that they’re going to get anxious; and of course they do get anxious which seems to confirm their worry and it just gets worse and worse.”

Tolin says that panic disorder can be controlled effectively through treatment, including antidepressant medication and cognitive behavioral therapy which works to help patients change their unhelpful thoughts and behavior to improve their quality of life.

Tolin has a simple rule of thumb for patients if they think they should seek professional help for their panic attacks.

“If the symptoms are affecting your quality of life or your ability to do things that are important to you than it’s time for you to do something about it,” says Tolin.

To connect with a provider at the Institute of Living Anxiety Disorder Center, visit www.instituteofliving.org/adc or email ADC@hhchealth.org.


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