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Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan, seen in Toronto on April 25, has recently spoken about the loneliness and darkness that often follows him and how family and basketball act as his escapes.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

What started out as DeMar DeRozan’s seven-word tweet during the NBA all-star game weekend, ‘This depression get the best of me,’ has kick-started a dialogue across North America about mental health and athletes.

The Toronto Raptors all-star guard pulled back the curtain on something few rich and famous athletes disclose publicly – his own mental well-being. Since then, DeRozan has spoken about the loneliness and darkness that often follows him and how family and basketball act as his escapes. DeRozan’s disclosure inspired Cleveland Cavaliers centre Kevin Love to speak out about his own struggles, penning an article in The Players’ Tribune.

Their frank talk prompted the NBA to request meetings with both players, to discuss how the league can further encourage mental wellness for players and staff, as well as for the kids who participate in its NBA FIT and Jr. NBA programs.

While the Raptors were in New York to play in March, DeRozan met with NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Kathy Behrens, the NBA’s president of social responsibility and player programs.

The results of those meetings will be first seen this week, when the NBA unveils a powerful television spot that stars DeRozan and Love speaking openly about their struggles with mental health.

Launching on NBA broadcasts on May 1 and running throughout the playoffs, the public-service announcement features testimonials from the two basketball stars, part of the NBA’s league-wide efforts to encourage mental wellness for players, staff and fans.

The league had some mental-health resources available for its players and staff, and had been working on total health with health-care partner Kaiser Permanente. The league was also partnering with the NBA Players Association to build a new, independently run mental-wellness program that is scheduled to launch next season.

So when DeRozan and Love began to speak openly about their own personal experiences with mental health, it re-enforced to the NBA the importance of the issue, and offered the opportunity to weave the real-life stories of two star players into the efforts.

Both players agreed to film the testimonials, parts of which will be used in the PSA and on a new website the NBA will launch this week, full of mental-wellness links and resources for the public. The league also hopes the two men will play a role within its new mental-health program when it launches, perhaps having Love and DeRozan speak to other players, similar to those players featured in the NBA’s rookie-transition program.

“Even DeMar didn’t fully understand what he was about to get into when he first tweeted that out. But he soon realized that once he opened the door, he was very willing to walk through it,” Behrens said. “When those guys went public with their stories, they really accelerated for us the importance of getting this message out and being more robust in what mental-health resources we were offering. Obviously when you have two all-stars and extraordinary people on and off the court, the ability to tell their stories and help other people was one that we really are so grateful for.”

The 30-second PSA will run on TNT, ABC, ESPN and NBA TV timed to May’s Mental Health Awareness Month. The poignant ad aims to break the stigma around seeking assistance for your mental wellbeing.

“The best thing that I did was to come out and say, ’Hey look, I need some help,’“ said Love as part of his testimonial in the ad.

“Never be ashamed of wanting to be a better you, period,” DeRozan says in the spot.

The Globe and Mail asked DeRozan about his participation in the PSA, as he headed for the bus at Washington’s Captial One Arena after his Raptors finished eliminating the Wizards last Friday night.

“It was great to be asked,” he said. “I came out and opened up about it, and I think it gave other guys the comfort to open up about it. At the end of the day, it’s bigger than sport. It’s a lifestyle for me. If I can have one person, a hundred, a thousand people, if I could start a movement with that, that’s what it’s all about for me, bettering people, young, old, whatever.”

The 28-year-old guard who grew up in a tough neighbourhood in Compton, Calif., stresses that just because an athlete is wealthy and successful, that doesn’t mean he’s superhuman.

“We always preach eating healthy, exercising, being an elite athlete, but the pressures that come with all of that – we don’t really look at the mental-health aspect first and foremost, somebody’s everyday life,” DeRozan said. “You never know where we’ve grown up and where we’ve come from before we made it – that could be dwelling on us.”

The NBA has begun offering free mindfulness training for all league and team employees with the help of mental-wellness expert group Headspace. It plans to give mental-health training to thousands of kids by implementing it into the programming of its NBA FIT, Jr. NBA and Jr. NBA World Championships.

DeRozan said he couldn’t have anticipated how extensive the reaction would be to his revelation, and the was encouraged by the fact that what he did served to accelerate the NBA’s work in that area.

“That made me feel great,” DeRozan said. “I’m really glad I did. It made me wish I did it earlier, but it came at the right time for me.”

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