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Professional News
NBA Star Finds MH Advocacy a Slam Dunk
Psychiatric News
Volume 46 Number 12 page 18-18

Christmas night 2010 became a little more special for Raymond Mikkael and his family when Los Angelas Laker star Ron Artest announced the father of four as the lucky winner of Artest's 2010 NBA championship ring. Artest had raffled off his 2010 Lakers championship ring, raising over $650,000 for various mental health charities. At the star-studded party at a club near the Staples Center, Artest also announced that he had already written a check for $50,000 to hire more school-based mental health workers for children who need their services.

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Ron Artest of the Los Angeles Lakers poses with Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and recipients of his charitable efforts before taking on the New Orleans Hornets.

Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/gettyimages.com

For this and other mental health advocacy work he has done, Artest was presented the 2010-11 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award on April 26 prior to a playoff game against the New Orleans Hornets by Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.).

The award is given annually by the approximately 150 members of the Professional Basketball Writers Association (PBWA) to a National Basketball Association (NBA) coach or player for "outstanding service and dedication to the community."

Besides the ring auction, Artest is well known for his advocacy activities on behalf of mental health. He has worked with Napolitano as a member of the Mental Health in Schools Act Task Force to generate government support for youth mental health programs and encourage students to reach out to health care workers if they need help. He also regularly speaks out on the subject of his own struggles with mental illness and what it has meant to him both professionally and personally to seek help.

Artest told Psychiatric News, "I feel honored to have received the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award. It's something I always hoped I'd be able to achieve one day. It's important because there are kids here in America who aren't doing well. I want to see those kids have an opportunity to succeed—whether they're on drugs, are abused, have a lack of confidence, are bullied or cyber-bullied, or have family issues."

He went on to say, "I'm trying to help out and bring awareness. It's about giving people the opportunity to have the opportunity. If our youth aren't mentally stable, you never know where they will end up or what potential they may have had or goals that could've been reached."

Artest has stated that he will make an announcement on July 1 concerning the percentage of his 2011-2012 salary he will donate to mental health causes.

In speaking of the importance of the award and the selection of Artest, Kathy Behrens, the NBA executive vice president for social responsibility and player programs, told Psychiatric News, "NBA players recognize the unique position they are in to address important social issues close to their hearts. The players nominated for the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, and certainly Ron, are representative of the extraordinary commitment that our players have for being fully engaged in giving back to their community."

The award marks a striking turnaround to anyone who has followed Artest's career. He was once on the receiving end of a much more inglorious edict, the longest suspension handed down in NBA history for his part in a brawl that spilled into the stands during a game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers.

In a comment to Psychiatric News, Doug Smith, president of the PBWA and a Toronto Star sports writer, said, "What our members felt was the importance of the issue, and Ron's dedication to bringing it to the public was hugely important in helping teens who may be inclined to keep things to themselves. If increasing awareness and giving kids a role model to look up to can help one teen come forward and get treatment, it's a step in the right direction.

"For Ron to admit he seeks help should serve as notice to everyone that it's OK to deal with mental health issues and get the treatment many need but are sometimes reluctant to ask for." 18_1.inline-graphic-1.gif

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Ron Artest of the Los Angeles Lakers poses with Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and recipients of his charitable efforts before taking on the New Orleans Hornets.

Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/gettyimages.com

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