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How sports leagues handle mental health issues

Saturday - 2/23/2013, 12:02am  ET

The Associated Press

Houston Rockets' first-round draft pick Royce White publicly criticized the NBA for lacking a protocol for handling mental illness. Here's a look at the policies America's four major sports leagues have to assist players with mental-health issues:

NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION: In 1993, the NBA's players' association established a program to assist players with a wide spectrum of off-the-court situations and challenges. It includes a Player Assistance Program that provides assistance and treatment of mental health and behavioral issues. NBA Commissioner David Stern said during All-Star Weekend that the league has been helping players with mental health issues for decades and they're addressed through the players' health programs.

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: In 1981, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's office introduced Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to provide resources for players, coaches and their family members for personal problems that may affect performance. EAPs provide evaluation and counseling, and are available for a wide range of issues, including those related to mental health. In 2009, MLB distributed a memo to every club outlining new disabled-list criteria for emotional disorders. Five players went on the DL that year for mental-health issues.

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE: In the aftermath of Junior Seau's suicide and a flurry of lawsuits involving brain injuries last summer, the NFL unveiled a "Total Wellness" program designed to help current and former players and league and team personnel. The program includes a confidential mental-health hotline that provides free consultation about the signs of crisis, symptoms of common mental health problems and where to go for help. Suicide-prevention experts and substance-abuse counselors are among those involved.

NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE: In 1996, the NHL and its players' union implemented a Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program that offers assistance and resources tailored to a player's individualized circumstances, including mental health issues. In 2011, Commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Donald Fehr said they would review the program after three players were found dead -- two from suicide and another from an accidental drug and alcohol overdose.


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