Watch CBSN Live

Basketball star Kevin Love opens up about panic attacks

CLEVELAND — Suffering for years in silence, Kevin Love has opened up about his struggles with mental health. The Cavaliers forward writes in an essay for the Players' Tribune that he had a panic attack during a game this season and he has spent most of his life afraid to accept there was something wrong with him.

"For 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else's problem," he said.

Love says he was stricken with anxiety Nov. 5 during a home game against the Atlanta Hawks. Love adds that he had been under family stress and hadn't been sleeping well. After briefly being winded while playing 15 minutes in the first half, he felt his heart racing and couldn't catch his breath during a timeout in the third quarter.

"It's hard to describe, but everything was spinning, like my brain was trying to climb out of my head," said Love, a five-time All-Star now sidelined after breaking his left hand last month.

"The air felt thick and heavy. My mouth was like chalk. I remember our assistant coach yelling something about a defensive set. I nodded, but I didn't hear much of what he said. By that point, I was freaking out."

Love was taken to the Cleveland Clinic, but tests didn't reveal anything abnormal. He returned to playing at a high level, but was puzzled by what happened and burdened about people finding out.

Although he did not mention it in his essay, titled "Everyone Is Going Through Something," Love left a Jan. 20 game against Oklahoma City under similar circumstances. He also missed the team's practice the following day. Those absences prompted the now infamous heated team meeting in which former teammate Isaiah Thomas and others questioned why Love had been excused.

The exchange led to tense days around the Cavs, who rebuilt their roster by trading Thomas and four other players before the deadline.

Love's father, Stan, also played in the NBA. Kevin Love says he always struggled with the stigma attached to an athlete who shows weakness.

"Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act," he said. "You learn what it takes to 'be a man.' It's like a playbook: Be strong. Don't talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own. So for 29 years of my life, I followed that playbook."

According to the American Psychological Association, around one out of every 75 people might experience panic disorder, for which the hallmark symptom is panic attacks. The disorder usually appears during the teens or early adulthood. While the exact causes are not known, there does seem to be a connection with major life transitions that are potentially stressful. Family history of panic disorder also makes someone more susceptible.

Signs of a panic attack include: 

  • racing heartbeat

  • difficulty breathing, feeling as though you "can't get enough air"

  • terror that is almost paralyzing

  • dizziness, lightheadedness or nausea

  • trembling, sweating, shaking

  • choking, chest pains

  • hot flashes, or sudden chills

  • tingling in fingers or toes ("pins and needles")

  • fear that you're going to go crazy or are about to die

Most people find help with a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapies.

The Cavs encouraged Love to see a therapist and he gets counseling a few times a month when the team is at home.

Love said he drew courage to go public with his issues after Toronto All-Star DeMar DeRozan's recently acknowledged he has had bouts of depression. After playing against DeRozan for years, Love said he would have never guessed one of the game's best players was having problems similar to his own.

"The reality is that we probably have a lot in common with what our friends and colleagues and neighbors are dealing with," Love wrote. "So I'm not saying everyone should share all their deepest secrets — not everything should be public and it's every person's choice. But creating a better environment for talking about mental health . that's where we need to get to."

Love's revelations promoted praise from teammate LeBron James, who posted on Twitter: "You're even more powerful now than ever before @kevinlove!!! Salute and respect brother!"

Love ended his piece by encouraging anyone dealing with inner struggle to seek help.

"So if you're reading this and you're having a hard time, no matter how big or small it seems to you, I want to remind you that you're not weird or different for sharing what you're going through," he said. "Just the opposite. It could be the most important thing you do. It was for me."

A few hours after the story was published, Love followed up with a tweet expressing thanks for the way his news had been received.

"Wow...I can't even describe how grateful I am for the love and support. More than anything, it's been amazing to see YOU tell your own stories about Mental Health. Let's keep it going," he wrote.

View CBS News In