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"A Conversation on Mental Health" Panel Recap    

"A Conversation on Mental Health" Panel Recap

By Hallie Belle Sheinbaum

Last Thursday, we hosted “A Conversation on Mental Health” panel on Moment House.  Panelists included former NBA player Lamar Odom, pioneering psychologist Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, and CEO of Project Healthy Minds Phillip Schermer. And, the conversation was moderated by Madhappy Co-Founder Mason Spector. 

A big silver lining of the pandemic was that it really brought mental health to the forefront of many of our lives. With everything shutting down and having more time inside, alone with our thoughts, we were forced to confront our mental health in ways we may not have before. 

What did you learn about your own mental health during the pandemic?

Lamar Odom

“The pandemic made me realize how important team is. I learned the importance of leaning on your team, friends, family, and higher power to get through this.” 

Dr. Alfie

“Being Gen X and seeing millennials and Gen Z out there protesting for racial justice, while we are all sitting here kind of forced to watch it, meant a lot to me. It empowered me and gave me more freedom to be more vocal about what it means to be a person of color in this day and age, which has been good for my mental health.”

Phil Schermer

“What people have come to realize during the pandemic is that mental health is perhaps the most intersectional issue around. When a child is killed in America, or when the climate is changing, and you don’t know if you will be able to put food on the table for your kids or pay rent, all of those things impact our mental health. So, I think we have now gained a better understanding of how mental health relates to all of these other issues and traumas in our lives.”

Why is it so hard to get help?

Lamar Odom

“It took so long for me to get help. It was hard for me as an addict because I wasn’t ready to admit that I had a real problem, and I felt shame. Especially for me in my neighborhood, with mostly black guys, you don’t want to ask for help, especially if your ticker is not working correctly. You don’t even know how to ask for help. So, for me, it was more of shame. And, now, I’m almost ashamed to say that I was ashamed.” 

When did you know that you wanted to help others?

Dr. Alfie 

“When I was a kid, I always felt isolated when I was outside of my home. When I was inside my home, I felt safe, protected, and taken care of–my parents were just really kind people...Once I went to Howard University for college, I developed a stronger sense of myself and who I am. Then it became, “how can I help other people have a stronger sense of self, especially kids?” I saw that there weren’t enough people out there worried about black and brown children, and then it became queer children and disabled children who were also under that label. I wanted everybody to feel that same sense of safety that I always felt at home with my parents.”

Lamar Odom

“After marrying Khloe, my whole life became public. My extracurricular activity started to spill over and become public. I decided that I wanted to take the narrative back, so I wrote about my darkest and deepest days dealing with this drug and, shit– it became a New York Times best-seller.”

“People would always come up to me and say ‘Oh, Lamar! You are such a great basketball player. I love you!’ But, the reaction that I get from people saying, ‘Lamar, I read your book, and it saved my life,’ definitely outweighs the basketball comments. And with that, I said, “Hey, I might as well just really be about this life.’”

Lamar, what was mental health like in the baseball league? Was it something players were talking about? 

Lamar Odom

“It recently really hit me what coach Phil Jackson was doing. He was bringing us together spiritually, without the religion. When you add forces like Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom,  Andrew Bynum, etc., and you got these guys that are together spiritually, that is a pretty hard team to beat. Phil was putting us on a different level because he was teaching us mindfulness as well.  I don’t think any other teams were really into meditating together. However, now that I am thinking about it, mental health was not really talked about amongst us. It was just that, guys didn’t want to be looked at as the weak link, especially in a locker room.”

What do you think is the best way to support a friend? 

Dr. Alfie

“Boundaries are key. You can’t take care of other people if you don’t take care of yourself first. You can’t pour from an empty cup. You shouldn’t really pour from a half-full cup. Your cup really needs to be full, and what you are giving to other people is overflow. So many of us were not taught to do that. It was kind of like we poured everything out, and then there was nothing left for us.”

Phil Schermer

“People worry that when they open up about their mental health, it won’t engender sympathy, it will engender judgment and ridicule… I think, if you are not talking about mental health with your friends, I don’t know why you would expect that they feel comfortable opening up to you. How does anybody know what your value set is, or if you are going to judge them or support them if you are not talking about the issue? If you are serious about supporting other people, you have to start with opening your mouth.” 

Dr. Alfie

“When talking about mental health, people just start to get quiet and shut down. And then they look at you weird. And then they like to ostracize you and stuff. So, I think that makes people feel isolated. Mental health shuts the room down– people don’t want to engage.”

Mason Spector

“It seems kind of silly that we will tell all these other things about us like our religion, our fav sports team, who we voted for, all these other things. But, if we are going through a really hard time right now,  for some reason, we will just keep our mouths shut when it seems like that is really the most important thing.”

What are some of your mental health goals for the rest of this year?

Phil Schermer

“I have always gotten energy from being with other people. One of the things that the pandemic revealed is that humans are social beings. And, it is almost impossible to be happy and have a sense of fulfillment if you can’t be with the people that you love and usually get energy from. So, I am excited for the opportunity to reconnect.” 

Lamar Odom

“Get stronger and find a way to spread my strength.” 

Dr. Alfie

“Putting myself first, always.

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414.