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The Surprising Truth about Mental Illness

Royce White is one of the NBA's hottest rookies. He also has crippling anxiety disorder. What we can learn from him about mental health.

With a new NBA season's first tip-off around the corner, Houston Rockets rookie Royce White is causing a minor sensation with his alternative plan for transportation between games: a bus. Conventionally, NBA teams fly from one city to another, but whenever possible, Houston is making an exception for White.

NBA fans will not be shocked to hear that a young star—even a rookie—would place demands on his team. But White is not simply being difficult or demanding. He's taking care of his health. White suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, a potentially paralyzing mental disorder that affects about 6.8 million adults in the United States. One symptom of his illness: fear of flying. Because the Rockets want White in top form for their games, they are allowing him to travel on the ground whenever possible.

That exception itself has grabbed at least as much attention as White's refusal to fly. Some fans wonder why he should receive special treatment. This is why: "The Rockets are being accommodating toward White because they believe he is one of the top big men prospects to come along in some time. So they're meeting him halfway by letting him get on a bus and drive away."

White's college-career accomplishments and his potential have earned him the opportunity to use his gifts productively and take care of himself at the same time. Not everyone is afforded the same latitude. Our society tends to assume people with mental illnesses are by nature unproductive and irrelevant. ...

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