More than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within a year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Among this statistic is Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) basketball player Chamique Holdsclaw, who visited Keene State College Friday, Feb. 10 to show her documentary, “Mind/Game: The Unique Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw,” and share her story of coping with mental illness.
Chamique Holdsclaw started playing basketball at the age of seven. The shy tomboy, as she described herself, spent the majority of her free time practicing at local parks.
Once she entered high school, New York Times sportswriter William Rhoden explains, she became the talk of the game. What people didn’t know however, was that Holdsclaw was using basketball as a therapeutic coping mechanism, while managing hard times back at home.
The Queens, New York, native attended the University of Tennessee from 1995-99. She helped the Lady Vols’ win three consecutive championships. By the time the four-time Kodak All-America left Tennessee, she had scored herself 3,025 points and 1,295 rebounds, the highest in Tennessee’s men’s and women’s history.
In the film, “Mind/Game: The Unique Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw,” former women’s college basketball coach and Head Coach of Holdsclaw at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville Pat Summitt described Holdsclaw as, “the best player in the game.” When it was time to enter the big leagues, Holdsclaw was the Washington Mystics’ first overall pick, and by the end of the season, she won Rookie of the Year in 1999.
Holdsclaw was at the peak of her success when her grandmother suddenly died of a heart attack. Holdsclaw explained in the film that she was hurting, but she masked that pain and put on a front until it was inevitable and she started losing. Holdsclaw also started losing control of her emotions and began going into a paranoid state. She decided to go see a therapist who diagnosed her with clinical depression, but initially Holdsclaw didn’t want people to know.
Instead, she sought a new beginning and requested a trade in 2005 from the Washington Mystics and moved to Los Angeles to play for the Sharks until she announced her retirement in 2007. According to Holdsclaw, at first, life was good in Los Angeles and she was happy.
That was until both her father and her step-father became ill, forcing her to return home for a short time. It was during that time that Holdsclaw started having visions. “If i jumped off a building, would anybody care?” Shortly after, she started self-medicating, which landed her in the hospital and on suicide watch, but she still didn’t want anyone to know. “How did I let it get like this?” Holdsclaw asked herself. “How can you be sad? You have so many blessings.”
Despite this downfall, Holdsclaw returned to L.A. like nothing happened until she realized her life was more important than basketball and left the Sharks to seek professional help. She then started sharing her story with others. She started “talking about what people didn’t want to talk about,” Holdsclaw admitted, which was mental illness. After her short retirement, she went back onto the court until she made her final retirement in 2010.
One night, Holdsclaw admitted that her thoughts got the best of her, she said, and she lashed out on her ex-girlfriend and former WNBA player Jennifer Lacy.
Holdsclaw took a baseball bat to Lacy’s car and shot out the window with the gun she had sitting in her car’s passenger seat. Lacy was not injured and did not press charges; however, Holdsclaw was indicted and pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and possession of a firearm.
“This person didn’t do anything to me and I have all this anger,” Holdsclaw explained. After the incident, she received a new diagnosis- bipolar disorder.
Holdsclaw now spends her days traveling the country sharing her story. “I never thought I would be doing this… but through my weakness, I found my greatest strength,” Holdsclaw said.
She realized and recognizes the millions of people going through the same things she goes through having a mental illness. “I struggled when I was this age, and I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through: the suicide attempt, masking it with alcohol and things like that. It’s just really a tough past, so if I could help you and hold your hand and help you get over that little puddle, then allow me to do that,” Holdsclaw said.
Students at Keene State College said they could really connect with Holdsclaw’s message. KSC senior Kelly Chadnick said Holdsclaw’s message was really important and powerful. “I liked how she never gave up no matter what and she kept going,” Chadnick said.
KSC sophomore Riley Bunker also said that she could connect with Holdsclaw as an athlete. She described Holdsclaw as influential to others for having the ability to overcome her illness and be able to openly talk about it.
Chief Officer of Diversity and Multiculturalism Dottie Morris helped orchestrate this event. She said she hopes that with Holdsclaw’s message, students will realize that we all struggle and that there is no shame to that or asking for what you need.
KSC Athletic Director Kristene Kelly said she hopes that Holdsclaw’s message inspires all students, not just athletes, and that if they are having issues, they can talk to someone and seek professional help before the issue escalates.
“It’s really important to make sure, as far as mental health, that we take that seriously and understand that it’s about the total student and student athlete, not just what they do athletically, but their mental, their physical, their emotional and their spiritual, and I am so glad Chamique was able to share her story.”
Kelly continued, “Mental health is a serious issue and one thing that I want them [students] to understand, because there is one in five Americans who suffer from mental illnesses, is that there are resources on campus… we have the counseling center, we have our CARES program, we have coaches, we have all kinds of people that they can find support in, so if they are having issues, I want them to be able to identify those issues and seek the help they need,” Kelly said.
Chamique Holdsclaw is an inspiration and heroic figure to many individuals, but she said her heroes are those who are not afraid to live in their true skin and be honest with who they are.
Brandon Marshall and her longtime friend Ron Artest are a few people she looks up to- people who admit to their struggle with mental illness and who are honest with who they are. “It’s not only people with mental illness, it’s the people that stand up to a challenge that won’t just roll over and die, the people that are like, ‘Hey, I’m going to fight to the end,’” Holdsclaw said.
Seven years out of retirement, Chamique explained the thing she misses most about basketball is the commodity.
“There’s nothing like that environment, the locker room, the traveling, the other members of your team of coming together as one to meet your goals. That’s just like a pure art,” she said. Holdsclaw shared an encouraging message from Pat Summitt that stuck with her throughout her career: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”
Alexandra Enayat can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org