Reflections on Mental Health in the News
One of the most common media requests we get at Public Affairs are for a CAMH perspective on well-known people in the news whose struggles with mental illness or addiction become public. As a general rule, we decline these kind of ripped-from-the-headlines requests. Our clinicians do not want to diagnose anyone from afar in the media.
This month we have been asked about Toronto Blue Jays star pitcher Roberto Osuna, 22, who recently made the extraordinarily rare public admission for a professional athlete that he is suffering from anxiety.
People wanted to know how a young man with more money, fame and success than the rest of us could only imagine could struggle with mental illness. The most insightful commentary I heard on the subject was not from a clinician, it was former Blue Jay pitcher Dirk Heyhurst appearing on TSN radio with Michael Landsberg.
That Landsberg was the host was no accident. He has been very public for years now about his own struggles with mental illness, and has become a tireless advocate and Bell Let’s Talk ambassador, so this was a topic close to his heart, and he knew Heyhurst was the perfect guest.
That is because Heyhurst knows what Osuna has been going through better than anyone. As he wrote in his memoir Bigger Than the Game, Heyhurst dealt with his crippling depression and anxiety during his last season with the Blue Jays by drowning himself in alcohol and pills. He said there is no way he would have ever gone public like Osuna did – because admitting to anything that could be perceived as weakness is just not how professional athletes are conditioned to think.
What I found most insightful was how Heyhurst addressed the issue of rich and famous celebrity athletes and mental illness. If anything, he said, having that kind of fame and success can make mental illness feel even more baffling to people like Osuna. They can feel as if they don’t have the “right” to feel mentally ill because of how charmed their life seems to the outside world.
That is why mental illness is such a powerful force. It does not discriminate. It can strike anyone, no matter how “successful” they are. As Heyhurst described it, there can hardly be a lonelier feeling than believing you should be the happiest person on earth, but your brain just won’t allow you to be happy.
This week, while Osuna was back to doing what he does best – saving games for the Blue Jays – the Blue Jays mascot Ace posed for pictures with clients at the CAMH Foundation Gifts of Light Barbeque. Osuna and the rest of the team were on the road in New York, but a couple of years ago he was among a handful of Blue Jays who generously agreed to visit CAMH and meet some of our staff and clients. As a CAMH employee and a life-long Blue Jays fan, I join Landsberg and Heyhurst in applauding Osuna for his candor and his courage in getting the help he seeks.