Laker star gives mental health assist

October 27, 2010 

Ron Artest of the Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t be prouder of his new fan base:  the nation’s mental health practitioners. And in this town, he can now count Dr. Marvin Southard as among his biggest cheerleaders.

Southard, director of Los Angeles County’s Department of Mental Health, told the Board of Supervisors in a letter on Wednesday that Artest has agreed to make a public service announcement for the department, “designed to address stigma and discrimination towards individuals with mental illness.”

As you might remember, just moments after his spectacular performance in the deciding game of the NBA championship last year, Artest profusely thanked his “psychiatrist” on national TV for helping him quiet his emotions so he could rise to the occasion (see video below.)

Given his quirky personality and well-documented anger problems of the past, Artest’s praise of his psychiatrist (actually a sports psychologist in Houston) prompted plenty of jokes. But for him, it was no laughing matter. Years of therapy, he said, had helped him right his course.

“I’m older now, so I think it’s about that time that I stop complaining about what people think about me, because it’s more important than me, you know?” Artest told NBA writer Scott Howard-Cooper last month. “That whole thing (after the championship), I was thinking about it, in my brain I’m like, ‘Am I really about to say this? On national TV?’ But then the other part of me was like, ‘It’s bigger than you. It’s bigger than you. It’s more about people that really need to hear this.’ ”

The PSA, which will be filmed at the Lakers’ practice facility, is scheduled to be produced by Gary Foster. Among his credits, Foster produced “The Soloist,” the film adaptation of Los Angeles Times’ columnist Steve Lopez’ book about his relationship with homeless musician Nathaniel Ayres.

Artest, known as a fiercely tenacious defender, was praised Wednesday by Southard for his off-court fortitude.

“Ron’s contribution is really important,” Southard said in an interview. “One of the main things that cause a burden for people with mental health issues is the social exclusion that they experience.” He said Artest is taking “a really big step of inclusion into the mainstream of our society.”

Artest also has said that he plans to auction the diamond-encrusted championship ring he received during an emotional ceremony before the Lakers’ home-opener on Tuesday. He said he wants the proceeds used to place more therapists in schools.

“You work so hard to get a ring, and now you have a chance to help more people than just yourself, instead of just satisfying yourself,” he told Howard-Cooper. “What’s better than that? For me, this is very important.”

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Posted 10/27/10

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