For many years, Anthony Lamb thought he wasn’t worthy, not deserving to have a dad.

The thoughts sent him reeling into a dark place. Depression set in. The more he thought about it, the deeper he went and the more difficult it was to get away from.

“I didn’t have a dad growing up and those thoughts, over time, started to wear on me. When I met him (at 19 years old) it started self-realizations and I had a lot of negativity,” said Lamb, a forward for the RGV Vipers. “When I met him in college I realized that was not true, those thoughts had no relevance in my life at all.”

Lamb’s struggles were — and are — no different than what thousands of athletes go through in one form or another. The constant pressures of being better, winning games, reaching the top league or tier of your sport, the wear of travel can be difficult enough. Throw COVID-19 into the mix the past two years and a dark, insufferable world can bring you right along with it.

Anthony Lamb, #34 of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, takes a three points shot during an NBA G-League game on January 19, 2022 at the Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg, Texas. (Courtesy: Christian Inoferio/NBA G League)

Elite athletes have ignored the possible scrutiny to come forward in recent years, announcing that they needed time to get their mental health in order. Tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open and later explained she had suffered long bouts of depression since 2018. Other athletes like Serena Williams, Michael Phelps and Rhonda Rousey — competitors at the top of their sport — have admitted to their mental health struggles. Rousey even admitted that for a time, she contemplated suicide.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott revealed he went through a dark period of anxiety and depression following the suicide of his brother, Jace, and the pandemic.

“When you have thoughts that you’ve never had, I think that’s more so than anything a chance to realize it and recognize it, to be vulnerable about it,” Prescott told ESPN in a Sept. 10, 2020 interview. “I think being open about it and not holding those feelings in was one of the better things for me.”

In a 2016 study published in the journal Sports Medicine, the findings suggested that “athletes experience a broadly comparable risk of high-prevalence mental disorders (i.e. anxiety, depression) relative to the general population.

Furthermore, the research demonstrates that this population is vulnerable to a range of mental health problems (including substance misuse), which may be related to both sporting factors (e.g. injury, overtraining and burnout) and non-sporting factors.”

Athletes for Hope, an association that aims to educate, encourage and assist athletes reported, “Among professional athletes, data shows that up to 35% of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis which may manifest as stress, eating disorders, burnout, or depression and anxiety.”

The association also said that experts believe those struggles are much, much higher at the collegiate level.

A study from Donovan Mental Performance said “in the wake of the pandemic, a survey of 37,000 college athletes found that “the rates of mental health concerns were 150% to 250% higher than those historically reported.”

Additionally, the survey found that roughly a third of athletes are struggling with sleep difficulties, a quarter are feeling a sense of loss, and 10% are feeling depressed to a level that makes day-to-day functioning difficult.

Lamb, however, sought and found help. In college, he talked to a sports psychologist that helped both athletes and non athletes. He learned to deal with emotions and feelings that sometimes made no sense.

Anthony Lamb #34 of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers smiles before the game against the Austin Spurs during an NBA G-League game on January 19, 2022 at the Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg, Texas. (Courtesy: Christian Inoferio/NBA G League)

Still, the space depression or anxiety can drag one into is something that needs to be dealt with. Over time, Lamb said he knows his body and understands what he needs and what can help him.

“That feeling won’t stay like that,” he said. “When you realize you’re not OK where you’re at, or something isn’t right, you have to know what the tools are that can help you get back to where you want to be, to be able to show up every day. Take care of yourself before things get out of hand.”

Dr. Deepu George, director of integrated behavior for the UTRGV School of Medicine echoed Lamb’s views.

“In life, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional,” said Dr. Deepu George, director of integrated behavior for UTRGV School of Medicine. “As you go through life, there are different challenges and threats — pain is almost a guaranteed experience, break bones, peer-related issues, but these are all natural rites of passage people go through.

“Suffering is what we have on top of those events and if you’re walking around in school thinking all of this is worthless, you are going to feel anxious and depressed. Nobody wants to feel like they’ve messed up, it’s really negative feedback and you will do everything to block that process.”

There are many ways to deal with the dark clouds. Gaining the skills to use these tools is key to helping deal with the emotions and the stressful scenarios before they expand being more than just a painful lesson.

Lamb said he needed to find a new drive to push himself forward and realize that things he did in the past weren’t going to help him move forward and grow. Now, if he feels something is coming his way to slow his progress, he has a variety of ways to attack it in response.

“I’ll watch anime or play video games or stuff that feels like I’m getting out of my own world. Sometimes it’s what people need — a little escape,” Lamb added. “I know some use drugs to get to it — that’s their solution. I don’t turn to that because I feel like it stunts your progress and growth.

“Being able to grow and learn about yourself, the rewards are so much more than if you spend time with short-term pleasures.”

Anthony Lamb at Bert Ogden Arena on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Marcus Kaufmann, head football coach at PSJA North, said high school sports often ends up being that escape from anxiety, either from home or peers or wherever.

“What we often find is that the stress comes from their home lives, and they get here and throw some weight around and get their minds off that,” he said. “They’ll talk about those things going on at home and always about COVID. Some are completely freaked out by it and some are trying to find a happy medium. Sports is a way for them to get a way and deal with it in a positive way.

“They don’t need to be stuck at home and dealing with their thoughts all day long. If you’re having bad thoughts and that’s all you’re thinking about, we’re an outlet. School is about learning, yes, but it’s also about the social and emotional part of life.”

Lamb is in his second season with the Vipers and just completed a 10-day contract with the San Antonio Spurs last week. Last season, the Rochester, New York native who played college basketball at Vermont, was named the NBA G League’s Most Improved Player.

He knows it’s all right when he feels down, or when emotions flare up.

“I learned my own cycle, talking to therapists in college,” he said. “The biggest thing when you have down times or going through something is that it’s not the end of the world. I can take a deep breath and know that this will pass. Sometimes I’ll call my mother or little brother to talk.

“It’s OK to take time for yourself, but to keep moving. If you need time or space, you need to take it. People understand if you need time — it’s OK to struggle sometimes to learn and grow and be where you want to be.”

For a list of mental health resources, visit the UTRGV website at, go to Student Services and select Counseling Center.

[email protected]