Mike Watkins Opens Up About Mental Health Struggles: ‘Penn State Has Saved My Life’
Penn State basketball forward Mike Watkins penned an open letter about his mental heath struggles and an apology to Penn State days after news of his latest disciplinary issue came out.
The Players Tribune-style letter was published on The Black Cager — a website run by Delgreco Wilson, a personal friend of Watkins who advises student athletes in the Philadelphia area on meeting NCAA requirements. It documents the effects bipolar disorder and depression have had on Watkins as well as what it was like growing up in an environment where gunshots, police tape, and “dope slinging” were normalized parts of life.
“We don’t talk about depression, anxiety and suicide in the ‘hood,'” Watkins wrote. “These sentiments are enhanced for elite athletes such as myself. So many of my friends, family members and loved ones expect me to make it to the NBA. I must admit, their expectations and the pressures associated with them have served as obstacles in my journey towards getting help.”
Watkins wrote that the recent death of his best friend was particularly tough on him. His death took the joy out of basketball for Watkins and forced him to turn to alcohol and take his feelings out on his coaches and advisors.
“I could not let go of the image of my best friend dying in my arms,” Watkins wrote. “Each time I thought about it, it was if it just occurred…the tears, the pain, the raw emotion became inescapable.”
Watkins said his depression had become so bad this June that he was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts and as a danger to himself when he threatened to jump off a balcony.
Encouraged by head coach Pat Chambers and his assistants, Watkins has now sought out professional help. Chambers’ relentless support of Watkins despite his struggles has been instrumental in his growth as a person. Earlier this week, Chambers defended Watkins and told the media to “Let us give a kid a chance” when asked about his recent arrest.
“I love Penn State. Penn State has saved my life,” Watkins said. “Because I enrolled at Penn State, I have an understanding of the source of some of the sadness and pain I endure. Because I enrolled at Penn State, I understand the anxiety and impulsiveness that lead to my poor decision-making.
“Because I enrolled at Penn State I am a better man.”
Watkins said that working with mental health professionals has helped him better understand himself and his struggles. It’s also given him the confidence to follow in the footsteps of fellow basketball stars Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan and use his platform and voice to speak about important issues.
“My depression impacted my decision-making. I now know this. I write it not as an excuse for my behavior. I did what I did. I own it,” Watkins wrote. “However, I want those I have negatively impacted to know that I now understand that ‘hurt people’ turn around and hurt people. I was hurting.”
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