Jayne Appel's fight for the mentally ill

Pro athletes are in the limelight -- sometimes in a positive way, sometimes negative -- and they have the opportunity to use this attention to make a difference for a good cause. For me, I've tried to use basketball as a means to help people understand more about mental illness and the stigma surrounding it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm always focusing on my sport and competing to get better at it every day, but it's important to me to also think of those who are in need. I grew up with a family member who is a diagnosed schizophrenic and have seen firsthand what the illness can do to a person and the family and community around him or her.

Last season I made it a goal of mine to aid in the production of San Antonio's first Mental Health Awareness game. We were able to get many different organizations involved with the night (The National Alliance of Mental Illness, BringChange2Mind.org, and the local mental outpatient center, La Paz), and I think it was very successful. The goal of the night was to make people aware of those stigmas that often come with being mentally ill. One common one: Those with a mental illness are often seen or portrayed as dangerous, when in fact, they aren't. We also wanted people to know about the lack of mental illness care funding and how it's preventing people with mental illness from getting healthy.

After the game I was able to speak a bit, and really relate to those in the crowd who stayed to hear me. This is an experience I'll always keep near to my heart. I know the San Antonio office is already working on next year's Mental Health Awareness game. Hopefully it will be an even greater success than last year.

I know there are many other athletes who use their individual platform to fight for what they believe in -- this is the cause I have chosen to speak out about and the one that means the most to me. I encourage people to reach out to someone who may just need a little help. It will mean more to them than you will ever know.

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