Baseball Prospectus has a really good read on mental health, focusing on Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton.
After taking note of government estimates that more than one quarter of American adults “have a diagnosable mental illness during the course of a calendar year,” Russell Carleton profiles the two most coveted MLB free agents of this off-season.
Greinke will have a bad outing at some point (because all pitchers do). He might even have a rough couple of weeks along the way. And no matter where he plays, there will probably be a sportswriter who calls him on it or fans who boo. I want you to memorize this sentence: social anxiety disorder (SAD) is not about being overly sensitive to what other people say about you. Social anxiety is about the irrational fear that you will do or say something horribly embarrassing in front of others. We’re talking about something that is internal in its origin. It’s not about needing to have thicker skin when people are critical. In fact, people can develop SAD even if no one’s been particularly harsh with them. It’s also not about the size of the audience. For someone with social anxiety, it can just be the thought of someone else being there.
It’s possible that what triggered Greinke’s SAD was related to his pitching. It’s also possible that it had nothing to do with baseball. Remember that while we often o see these men only in their roles as baseball players, they also have lives to live. To my knowledge, Mr. Greinke has chosen to keep the details of his struggle against anxiety and depression private (and that’s his right), so before you write him off as damaged goods on the mound, consider that you’re dealing with variables about which you know not.
Let’s clear one thing up: if you’re going to give Josh Hamilton crap about the decisions that led to his problems with drugs and alcohol, then give him equal credit for the fact that he sought out treatment and has gone to great lengths to maintain his sobriety. Hamilton reportedly travels with no cash in his wallet, as he fears that this will trigger him to use again. He has an accountability partner with whom he travels. Yes, it’s a little odd, but for a moment, appreciate the story of a man who has to work that hard for his sobriety and wants to stay away from alcohol and drugs that bad.
In response to Carelton’s piece, Brien Jackson of It’s About the Money Stupid takes the Yankees to task for seemingly buying into the misconceptions surrounding Greinke’s ills:
I know I’ve said this before, but the notion that Greinke wouldn’t be able to handle a large market has always been based on an erroneous and baseless belief of what social anxiety is, and how it develops/affects someone who suffers with it. The fact that it assumes a sort of cold rationality in the process of mental illness alone should be your first clue that it’s total nonsense, but nonetheless it’s been trotted out every time Greinke’s name is mentioned in any sort of conjunction with the Yankees, and “team sources” have repeatedly mentioned it specifically when speaking with reporters.