British Columbia

Age of Anxiety: Former NCAA player Jared Casey speaks out about struggle

For Maple Ridge's Jared Casey, the intense sporting environment of NCAA college basketball was impacting his mental health.

Casey will be speaking at Age of Anxiety event at CBC Vancouver on Oct. 3

Jared Casey (right) with his father and his grandmother, after his first win with the Skidegate Saints at the All-Native Basketball Tournament in 2012. (submitted by Jared Casey)

On New Year's Eve 2007, Jared Casey played his last ever NCAA college basketball game, walking away from a full athletic scholarship to the University of San Francisco

For the young man from Maple Ridge, the intense sporting environment was impacting his mental health.

"There's a saying that one of my coaches used to tell me which was: 'No matter how hard you think you're working, or no matter how much you do, there's always going to be someone out there working harder than you who is gaining a step on you'," Casey said.

"To feel like you can never take a breath or never take a rest and just enjoy life, it's a real heavy weight on your shoulders."

From January 2008 onwards Casey began seeing a string of doctors and psychiatrists, and was eventually diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Casey, now the director of strategic policy with the First Nations Health Authority, will be sharing his story at CBC Vancouver's event Age of Anxiety, a special panel discussion on Saturday, Oct. 3 hosted by Gloria Macarenko.

A low point

After Casey left the University of San Francisco, he transferred to Seattle University, where he again tried to play basketball.

With the pressure of the sport — and his worries about his career — he lost his appetite and dropped 20 pounds in a few weeks. He could no longer muster up the energy to play basketball, and also lost the will to go to class.

"At that point I just knew it wasn't normal," he said.

Jared Casey (left) started experiencing anxiety in his second year at the University of San Francisco. (Jared Casey)

Casey said he often felt like there was no point at trying to succeed in anything — because at that time he would feel like he would never again have a sense of accomplishment or a sense that he did something right.

"You just get to a point where there's no point of waking up anymore, because you know the day isn't going to satisfy fact the best time you had that day was when you were asleep."

His parents, who supported him when he continually phoned them in tears, helped him come to the realization that he needed to get help.

"They were the ones who first voiced to me: 'Jared, you don't need to feel this way everyday. We do think there are ways for you do feel better,'" he said.

"Had it not been for them — if I would've just stayed within my own head — I don't know if I would have ever allowed myself to recognize that and actually give myself the break that I needed."

Overcoming stigma

After getting diagnosed and starting medication Casey completed his degree at Seattle University.

He worked for two years before being recruited by UBC to play basketball and complete a masters degree.

He graduated with his masters in business administration earlier this year.

Impacted by the stigma often associated with people who have mental illnesses, Casey would often tell lies to cover up his struggles with anxiety and OCD.

These days he's not afraid to share his story — and for those who might offhandedly say that they're OCD about something or other, Casey wants them to know that it is a serious condition.

"Anyone can say they're OCD about something, or that something bothers them more than it should, but I want people to understand that that can grow to a much further extent where it really starts to ruin your life," he said.

"My biggest hope in all of this is that more people feel strong enough to let others know what they're going through."

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled Age of Anxiety: Former NCAA player Jared Casey speaks out about struggle with CBC's Rick Cluff on The Early Edition. 

With files from Manusha Janakiram


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