Local News Columnist
5:16 PM EDT, June 7, 2013
I know Dwight Howard doesn't get many hurrahs in these parts.
But this week he deserves some love.
President Barack Obama went before the cameras Monday to say that people shouldn't be stigmatized for seeing a doctor for mental-health reasons. In the aftermath of shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Colorado, everybody agrees we should talk more openly about mental illness.
Obama even seemed to wonder why our culture is more comfortable talking about intimate sexual problems than mental health. It seems the president has seen those little blue pill commercials one too many times.
"You see commercials on TV about a whole array of physical health issues, some of them very personal," Obama said. "And yet we whisper about mental-health issues and avoid asking too many questions."
As he spoke, the Internet was about to light up with the latest round of what has become popular sport now on both coasts: Dwight bashing.
Only, the criticism wasn't the big man's free throw.
His new weakness? Howard happened to mention in an interview with a Los Angeles Times sports columnist that he saw a psychiatrist last season.
And that's the fact buried midway through the original column that became the flashy headline.
"Dwight Howard admits seeing psychiatrist" cried CBSSports.com.
And this doozy: "Dwight Howard admits he went crazy, was seeing psychiatrist last season," pronounced EliteDaily.com, which claims to be the "voice of generation-y." So much for the under-30 set being open-minded.
So, from these headlines we might conclude that seeing a psychiatrist is (1) something to be "admitted" or confessed like a sin, and (2) seeing a psychiatrist is the same as going "crazy."
Oh, Superman. As a Magic fan I didn't think it was possible to say it, but you're getting a raw deal.
Everybody says we should talk more openly. Howard does and he gets it thrown back in his face.
There was hardly a mention in the coverage of Dwight's shrink sessions that athletes see psychiatrists or psychologists all the time to help with their performance. An NBA insider told me this is pretty standard stuff.
We have a long way to go when it comes to mental illness and stigma.
You don't have to tell that to Candy Crawford, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Central Florida.
"The bottom line is there is some kind of thought from everybody, even people who are suffering, that they are reluctant to talk about it," she said. "They know they are being judged. People think it's a character flaw. Nobody would say cancer is a character flaw."
A few years ago the association hosted a fundraiser with former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, one of the few people of prominence who has openly discussed his bipolar disorder.
Getting sponsors for the event was a challenge.
"We did sell out," Crawford said. "But for every table we got, we called 50 companies. ... The biggest employers in this community did not step up."
That's why Dwight deserves a standing-O for what he said.
"I have only one problem, and it's between my ears," he told the Times. "I just think too much."
The conversation about mental health isn't only about severely debilitated people who commit acts of violence. Those people are a small minority.
Most are people like Howard who are smart enough to recognize they have a problem to work through, tackle it and move on. They shouldn't be stigmatized by anyone, including us in the media. They should be applauded.
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