GREAT FALLS — From the outside looking in, you might think Josh Huestis has a perfect life. He was a two-time State AA champion at Great Falls CMR, a star forward at Stanford, and now he’s living his dream as the only player from Montana in the NBA.
But there are times when Huestis admits he feels less than perfect — when the pressures of basketball and life are overwhelming; when depression sets in and self-esteem plummets. His sense of self-worth was tied up in basketball and his emotions often rose and fell on the way the ball bounced.
And for a long time, like many choose to do, Huestis would push those feelings away, bottle them up and store them away. But they never went away. It took some time, but eventually Huestis challenged them head on, and on Tuesday night he opened up as the featured speaker at a fundraising banquet for the Great Falls-based Center for Mental Health.
“Mental health is something I struggled with my entire life, and I know there’s a lot of other people out there that do, too, more than we’ll ever know,” he explained. “It’s something that’s been stigmatized. With the position I’m in, I want to be able to talk about mental health and show people it’s OK to not be OK. We want to take that stigma away from it. By doing this and bringing attention and awareness to it, we can help a lot of people.”
Though it took him years to confront his mental health, Huestis has always been interested in the workings of the mind. His mother, Bonnie, is a therapist in Great Falls and Huesits himself graduated from Stanford with a degree in psychology. But it’s tough for athletes to open up, especially in ultra-competitive environments like the NBA.
But these days a growing number of NBA players are speaking out about their struggles with mental health. Recently Cleveland Cavaliers all-star forward Kevin Love penned a piece on the The Player’s Tribune about this experience with anxiety. Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan detailed his fight against depression in an interview. And Huestis recently authored an article about mental health for the Undefeated.
Players are taking it upon themselves to start the conversation.
“For the longest time, being an NBA player you didn’t want to have any chinks in your armor,” Huestis said. “You wanted to be strong at all times, but it’s becoming more of a norm to be able to talk about your issues, because at the end of the day you’re not alone. A lot of people have issues and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Huestis knows first-hand that the stigma surrounding mental health is especially prevalent in Montana. The phrase ‘cowboy up’ seems to fit the demographic, but that’s an unhealthy line of thought.
“I think that causes more problems than we can ever comprehend,” Huestis said. “There’s nothing wrong with feeling emotion and talking about any problems you have or feeling any emotion at all. ‘Cowboy up’ is a distinctively Montana thing – but regardless of what you’re going through you can still be a man and still be tough, even if you express your emotions.”
Though Huestis and his fellow NBA players are high-profile athletes, they’re not robots. They’re humans. And it’s OK to be human. It’s OK to not be OK.