HealthCheck

Rockets player opens up about fear of flying

Monday, October 08, 2012

The fear of flying is more common than you might think. Experts say one in five of us have some kind of anxiety disorder at some point in our lives.

Houston Rockets rookie Royce White is one of those people. There is treatment. But that treatment doesn't always work for an athlete.

When White admitted he was afraid to fly, people wondered why he would jeopardize a promising NBA career because he wouldn't get on an airplane. But he'd tried medication for it.

"I did try Xanex a couple times during the Iowa state games but they banned that this year, so it's funny that that happened," he said.

Royce says side effects bothered him.

"I didn't like it. I felt like there were residual side effects the next day, so I ended up going without it the rest of the season on the flights, really worried and not taking anything," White said.

Experts many anti-anxiety medicines have side effects that don't work for athletes.

"The side effects could be slowing down. Perhaps weight gain can be an issue with a lot of these medicines long term, which is undesirable, mental slowing, cognitive slowing, sleepiness, sedation," UTHealth psychiatrist Dr. Prashant Gajwani said.

White has flown in the past. Experts say it's normal for anxiety to get better and worse. Traveling by bus makes sense for him because it's familiar, and familiarity reduces anxiety.

"My message is to other people that don't suffer from mental illness and saying that more people suffer than you know and stigma really affects diagnosis and treatment," White said.

White says his honesty about his illness has helped him, and it's encouraged others too.

"It's been astronomical the amount of response that I had from the mental illness community. They're excited because they don't speak a lot on their issues," he said.

Dr. Gajwani says both White and the Rockets should be praised.

"That's definitely to be applauded. That's a very commendable act for him to come in the open and talk about his mental illness that limits his functionality. And at the same time for the Rockets to focus on his talent and not on his disability," Dr. Gajwani said.

Another treatment that works is called exposure therapy. Psychiatrists say the therapy helps patients get so familiar with the fear, it desensitizes them to it.

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