Royce White’s Openness With Mental Illness Is Blessing To Some, Curse To Others

The mental illness of pro basketball player Royce White has been much discussed since he was drafted by the Houston Rockets last year. White was initially assigned to a minor league team but has continued to stir the conversation about his mental health here in Houston, most recently for leaving that team.


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After unexpectedly leaving the Rockets’ Development League team — the Rio Grande Valley Vipers — last week, Royce White and his mental health have again been in the news.

White suffers from generalized anxiety disorder among other conditions, including a fear of flying.

Shortly after the start of the NBA season, White was assigned to play for the D-League team.

He has now tweeted that he’s returning to the Vipers after missing three games.

In an interview with the Huffington Post last week, White said he believes the Rockets and the NBA preferred it if he were gone.

“And why do they want me gone? Because business is about convenience, it’s not about doing what’s necessary, right? It’s about cutting overhead. And a lot of times what’s best for us as human beings doesn’t meet that criteria for businesspeople.”

Dr. Oscar Bukstein is a psychiatrist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. He says it’s up to an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee with social disorders such as White’s.

“It’s probably an issue of what’s a reasonable, what are reasonable accommodations and can any sports team given the kinds of intrinsic demands of athletic performance, of being an athlete, of an athlete’s lifestyle, whether it is possible to accommodate his wishes or needs.”

He says the lifestyle of a professional athlete is not the best for someone with a mental illness.

Angelina Hudson is with Houston’s branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She says White’s case has brought necessary attention to the issue of mental health.

“If one in four Americans are impacted by mental illness, then we should be able to, you know, in 2013, to talk about it, so that’s why I’m so excited that he brings it up because now we can talk about it without the shame, blame, guilt and that sort of thing and begin to educate more of society, of the general society about those disorders.”

But the attention White is getting is often negative. Many fans are upset with White for not playing, and some feel the Rockets should have picked a different player. Hudson says people who are the first to come out with something are often attacked and criticized.

“It’s negative comments but at the same time there’s opportunity then to explain some of the nuances. The last conversation that I was a part of, they were discussing the weight gain and he showed up to camp so many pounds overweight. And I said, you know, that could be because of the medication.”

She says most of those who criticize White have no knowledge about his illness and don’t understand what he’s going through.

Rockets officials declined to comment on White but if his tweets are true, White will play with the Vipers in the Development League tonight.