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How US basketball’s female players are missing out in mental health fight

The new NBA season begins on Wednesday, and franchises already replete with support staff now need to find room for at least one extra person. As part of a new league-wide mental health policy announced in August, every side is required to have at least one mental health professional among its staff, an innovation which has won deserved praise. 

But over at sister brand the WNBA, female players are left asking, ‘What about us?’ Four-time WNBA All Star and Dallas Wings player Skylar Diggins-Smith last weekend revealed she played the entire 2018 season while pregnant. But her comments on the lack of mental health support – which saw her sit out the entire 2019 season with postpartum depression – were equally startling. 

“People called me a quitter, said I gave up on my team,” she wrote, “not knowing I took two full months away from everything, with limited resources to help me be successful mentally/physically.” 

While mental health has become far less taboo in public discourse, in women’s sport there remains a damaging disparity in how it is treated compared to men’s sport, and women’s basketball is no exception.

The WNBA players’ association last November announced they were opting out of their Collective Bargaining Agreement with the league, which is 50 per cent owned by NBA franchises. Now the season is over, they enter a renegotiation period and, among salaries and player travel conditions, mental health protocols seem set to feature high on the list of priorities.  

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