Stay away from phone, social media: Donaldson's advice to athletes battling depression

Amit Kumar Das

New Delhi, Nov 10 (PTI) As someone who has battled suicidal thoughts, veteran basketball player James Donaldson knows a thing or two about depression faced by sports persons across the globe.

The 62-year-old English-American, who played 14 seasons in the NBA and several leagues across Europe, has advised the sportspersons dealing with mental health issues to stay away from cell phones and social media.

From multiple Olympic gold medallist swimmers Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps to cricketers such as England's Andrew Flintoff and Marcus Trescothick, sportspersons from across the world have battled depression.

Star Australian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell had recently joined that list of athletes when he decided to take a break on mental grounds.

'Sports is one of those occupations where there is a lot of stress and expectations. Players have this pressure of performing at the highest level, it can become too much,' said the 7-foot-2 Donaldson on the sidelines of an event organised by Sukarya, a women-centric NGO.

'We live in an age where so much of our lives are on social media platform, so we hear criticism more than ever before, from fans and all these negativity becomes too much after a while.

'Even taking a lot of positivity becomes an unrealistic bubble where you put yourself in, you think how greater you are. So you need to balance it out, you need to keep it in proper perspective. You need a healthy life style, a family to come back to.' Donaldson, who survived an eleven-and-a-half hours of emergency heart surgery, had sunk into depression and even thought of ending his life last year after his business (Donaldson Clinic) went downhill and the woman he loved walked away after a long-term relationship.

'Lot of time, it is not one specific thing that causes the anxiety or depression. I can say from my own experience: family problems, financial issues and one after another it all compounded and became too much and I even thought of ending my life,' said Donaldson, with a smile.

Donaldson, who now runs a 'Gift of Life Foundation', felt young athletes are at greater risk and advised them to stay away from social media.

'I really feel for the young athletes who are in high school or universities. Can you imagine the pressure they feel if they miss a shot or something with people booing or giving thumbs down. That can play in your mind,' he said.

'So, my advice to all players is to have a proper balance in life, have a refuge where you can get away from, shut your phone sometimes, shut social media sometimes, be with real people who will be with you in both good and bad times.' Donaldson said the sports federations also have a role to play in helping the athletes battle mental heath issues.

'I think the sports federation has a role to play. They have to advise the players, protect the players from the social media world, may be some old fashioned team time. NBA is trying to do something of that, providing more resources to the guys,' he said.

Asked if he has any specific plans in India, Donaldson said: 'I do work in China where I bring in retired basketball players, who coach and train and play with the kids and India will be a wonderful opportunity for some of this guys to come and do those kind of work.

'I know the Sacromento King owner, who is an Indian fellow himself, so when I go back to Seattle next week, I will get in touch with him, so lets see,' he signs off. PTI ATK AHAT