NBA star Kevin Love is fighting mental health stigma in a 'hyper-masculine sport': 'Men or boys hear the word vulnerable and they look at it as weakness'

Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love on how his own struggle with mental health issues inspired him to help others. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Kevin Love knows what it's like to struggle with his mental health. Now, the basketball star is hoping to make things easier for others who are navigating that same journey.

Love has gone through his own battle with anxiety and depression publicly. Back in 2018, the Cleveland Cavaliers player experienced a panic attack on the court during the third quarter of a game against the Atlanta Hawks. He wrote about the crippling experience, which left him on the floor of the training room "trying to get enough air to breathe," in a now-viral article, “Everyone Is Going Through Something.”

But as the athlete explains, his struggles started long before that.

"My first public panic attack was that game, but prior to that it was rage fits," Love tells Yahoo Life's The Unwind, adding that he was previously "able to escape from being in the public eye in terms of having those major episodes."

While he struggled with those issues for years, sharing his experience wasn't something Love felt comfortable doing in what he calls "a hyper-masculine sport."

"Being a young man, it's always harder to express yourself in that way because of the taboo and stigma behind it. As young men, we're taught a different way of communicating that actually hinders our evolution and our progress," he says. "I think men or boys hear the word 'vulnerable' and they look at it as weakness. Whereas pinpointing what’s bothering you, and where anxiety lies, can actually be a superpower."

Love has found a great source of relief in attending therapy.

"For me, it was a major step in the right direction when I first started with my therapist," he shares. "It's amazing the freedom that comes with it."

Despite the work he puts in to maintain his mental health, Love doesn't believe there will be a time when everything's perfect. While he hasn't had any panic attacks lately, there have been times when he felt "on the verge."

"As an athlete, looking at your mortality ... that definitely gives you anxiety," says Love, who is coming up on his 15th season in the NBA. To manage his well-being, he swears by several tools, including meditation and a balanced diet. Noting that he was 30 pounds heavier when he came into the league ("I was a big boy"), he says eating the right foods is one of the best ways to ensure he has a lengthy career, as is getting between seven-and-a-half and eight hours of sleep a night.

Love's mission to live a healthy life goes beyond himself, however. In September, the Kevin Love Fund launched its social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum, available nationwide to educators for free. Developed to combat the growing mental health pandemic, the 14-lesson plan curriculum is customized for middle school, high school and college students. As they head back to school, nearly 10,000 students either recently completed or are starting the program this month.

"We always say that mental health and all the conditions that come with it are such a huge thief of human potential," says Love. "So any way we can combat that, and do it in a way that's fun and in the classroom, is really special."

The program combines video clips from celebrities, artists and other young adults to allow students to see how relatable their feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, grief or other challenging emotions are.

"I always felt like 'nobody’s gonna care about how I feel because I'm a person in the public eye,' but it’s something that doesn’t discriminate," says Love. "It’s being able to see a variety of people within the space sharing their stories, and that makes everybody feel more comfortable in their own skin when you see a diverse group of people."

Having just turned 34, Love says he wishes his younger self knew just how freeing it would be to share his struggles and "be a very authentic version of myself."

Happiness, he notes, is "always a moving target." But he understands now that with authenticity has come feeling "much more comfortable in my own skin."

"Speaking your truth is key," he says.

Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.