newnormal353

I'm just gonna pull a few billies and think about it.

A couple of weeks ago I published a post referencing the difficult first year of NBA recruit Royce White.

White, 21, was picked 16th in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Houston Rockets and spent December and January working through a contract dispute with the team centred on management acknowledging and catering to an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult for him to fly or even drive.

While this was going on, White was lacerated by sections of the American sports media and abused on social networking sites by basketball fans, often for being a "fag" because, apparently, if you care about your mental health, you must also like sleeping with other men.

In late January, writer Chuck Klosterman published a pretty astounding interview, where White made some rather interesting observations about mental health.

It was astounding because White is so young, his position so radical, the career stakes for him so high and because pretty much every sportsman asked about anything other than their swing, running style or jump shot ends up sounding like a moron and White did not.

Writes Klosterman of his interview: "I mention a statistic: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 26 per cent of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. I ask White if he thinks that stat carries over into the NBA".

Klosterman: Do you believe 26 percent of the league is dealing with a mental illness, or does mental illness prompt those dealing with it to self-select themselves out of the pool? Are you the rare exception who got drafted?

White: The amount of NBA players with mental health disorders is way over 26 percent. My suggestion would be to ask David Stern [the NBA Commissioner] how many players in the league he thinks have a marijuana problem. Whatever number he gives you, that's the number with mental illness. A chemical imbalance is a mental illness.

Klosterman: So, wait ... if somebody has a drinking problem, is that -

White: That's a mental illness. A gambling addiction is a mental illness. Addiction is a mental illness.

Klosterman: Well, then what's the lowest level of mental illness? What is the least problematic behavior that still suggests a mental illness?

White: The reality is that you can't black-and-white it, no matter how much you want to. You have to be OK with it being gray. There is no end or beginning. It's more individualistic. If someone tears a ligament, there is a grade for its severity. But there's no grade with mental illness. It all has to do with the person and their environment and how they are affected by that environment.

Klosterman: OK, I get that. But you classify a gambling addiction as a mental illness. Gambling is incredibly common among hypercompetitive people. The NBA is filled with hypercompetitive people. So wouldn't this mean that -

White: Here's an even tougher thing that we're just starting to uncover: How many people don't have a mental illness? But that's what we don't want to talk about.

Klosterman: Why wouldn't we want to talk about that?

White: Because that would mean the majority is mentally ill, and that we should base all our policies around the idea of supporting the mentally ill. Because they're the majority of people. But if we keep thinking of them as a minority, we can say, 'You stay over there and deal with your problems over there.'

Klosterman: OK, just so I get this right: You're arguing that most Americans have a mental illness.

White: Exactly. That's definitely correct.

Klosterman: But - if that's true - wouldn't that mean "mental illness" is just a normative condition? That it's just how people are?

White: That doesn't make it normal. This is based on science. If there was a flu epidemic, and 60 percent of the country had the flu, it wouldn't make it normal ... the problem is growing, and it's growing because there's a subtle war - in America, and in the world - between business and health. It's no secret that two per cent of the human population controls all the wealth and the resources, and the other 98 per cent struggle their whole life to try and attain it. Right? And what ends up happening is that the two per cent leave the 98 per cent to struggle and struggle and struggle, and they eventually build up these stresses and conditions.

Klosterman: So ... this is about late capitalism?

White: Definitely. Definitely.

OK, so White definitely lays it out there, and while he might be reading a bit too much Marxist theory, his contention there is no grading for mental illness is penetrating.

We have levels of virulence and seriousness for an almost endless variety of different physical injuries and medical conditions but being mentally ill is largely treated like pregnancy - you are or you aren't.

Sure, people are diagnosed with "minor depression" or "slight anxiety" but I think we hesitate to call these people "mentally ill" for fear of stigmatising them, which in turn can trivialise what they're experiencing.

What's even more interesting is how we define "normal" or "mentally healthy".

I guess you'd say it's someone who has good relations with their friends and family, is content with their work life, has acceptable levels of physical fitness, enjoys regular, respectful sexual relations and views the world around them optimistically.

But then what if they also drink a bit too much? Or pull bongs before their shift? Or gamble? Or snort sleeping pills? Or wank like a monkey on ice?

Where does this sort of behavior move from "normal" to "aberrant" to "mentally ill?" And does one of these behaviours cancel out all the "normal", "well-adjusted" stuff a person does?

White's contention about the stresses of modern life is also fascinating. I don't think there's many people who spend hours in traffic or on public transport and stare at a computer screen all day and eat weird fast food while watching their plasma or texting on their mobile phone who have not reflected on how "unnatural" modern life has become.

It also makes you wonder when and if humans were ever "normal"? Consider the stresses previous generations have experienced, from slavery to genocide, constant armed conflict, socially condoned peadophilia and rape, starvation, crushing poverty, exploitation, beatings, human and animal sacrifice ... the list goes on.

Says White: "Stress is one of the number-one killers of human beings. Stress hardens your arteries. And that's scary for a lot of humans, so they don't want to talk about it. It's like - what is the pollution in the air really doing to us? We'd rather just tiptoe around that idea and argue that it's the food that's killing us. But the reality is that stress is a killer of humans, and if we don't support mental health in the right way, the nature of the illness causes people to become overly stressed. And that's serious."

White's big picture plan is to use his visibility as an NBA player to start this conversation and it's paradigm-shifting in so many ways, he admits what many supporters deem courageous advocacy, others see as "insufferable" arrogance.

"At the end of the day, we all stand on one side of a line, and it's always going to be opposed by somebody else," says White.

"I don't like to compare myself to other great people. But I'm sure Gandhi was insufferable to some people. Martin Luther King was insufferable. JFK was certainly insufferable. Galileo was insufferable. It's always tough to tolerate people who say the things that other people don't want to say."

What do you think constitutes mental illness? Is Royce White a visionary or an alarmist?

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