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John Wall provides haunting details of his struggles with mental health

John Wall, who played nine seasons with the Washington Wizards, has opened up over the past month about his mental health. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

John Wall credits a visit from his mother in a dream after she died of breast cancer in December 2019 for prompting the former Washington Wizards star to seek therapy when he considered taking his own life over the ensuing months. He hopes sharing his story encourages others struggling with depression to be strong enough to ask for help.

“It was like she was standing right next to me,” Wall recalls in a powerful and soul-baring essay for the Players’ Tribune that was published Thursday. “She looked me in the eyes and said, ‘You have to keep going for your children. There’s more for you to do on this earth.’ ”

Wall considered the dream a “sign from God.” With his world collapsing around him, he finally confided in a friend that he needed help and began seeing a therapist. It saved his life.

Wall, who signed a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Clippers in July, first opened up about his mental health in a one-on-one interview at a charity event last month.

“Darkest place I’ve ever been in,” Wall said in response to a question about what the past 2½ years have been like for him. “At one point in time, I thought about committing suicide. There was a time I had to go find a therapist. A lot of people think: ‘I don’t need help. I can get through it at any time.’ But you got to be true to yourself and find out what’s best for you, and I did that.”

Buckner: We're seeing John Wall at his strongest. He still has some heavy lifting.

Wall expanded on those comments in the Players’ Tribune essay, describing in great detail the confluence of events that made him feel as though suicide — which he acknowledges is practically a taboo word in the community in which he grew up — was “the only option.”

The five-time all-star suffered an Achilles’ injury in February 2019 that forced him to miss the entire 2019-20 season and cost him “the only sanctuary” he ever knew. His mother, Frances Ann Pulley, died 10 months later. Wall recalls calling his mom “six or seven times a day just to hear her voicemail” in the days that followed.

“My best friend is gone,” he writes of his mom. “I can’t play the game I love. Everybody just got their hand out. Nobody is checking on me for me. It’s always coming with something attached. Who’s there to hold me down now? What’s the point of being here?”

On top of all that, Wall became the subject of trade rumors. He was eventually dealt by the Wizards, who selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, to the Houston Rockets for Russell Westbrook in December 2020.

“The franchise I had sacrificed my blood, sweat and tears to represent for 10 years decided they wanted to move on,” Wall writes. “I was devastated, I’m not gonna lie. That was when I started debating — literally debating — whether I wanted to go on, almost every night.”

Wall said he attempted to quell his pain by partying, but his dark thoughts would return when the party stopped and his friends went home, and one night he “got about as close as you can get to making an unfortunate decision and leaving this earth.”

Wall said therapy has “slowly turned things around” for him. He continues to see a therapist and has found a sense of peace and purpose in being a good father to his two young sons and carrying on his mother’s legacy. Wall hopes his story is a lesson to others who might be hesitant to ask for help, as he was for so long.

“I had to be the man of the house at nine years old,” writes Wall, whose father died of liver cancer. “So my whole mentality, no matter the situation, was always, ‘I don’t need anybody’s help. I’ll figure it out. I’ve gritted through everything else, so why not this?’ Being a product of your environment is not a bad thing. But I think it’s a blessing and a curse. Being a dog, being unbreakable, always having that chip on your shoulder — hey, I get it. I’ve been that guy. But the day is going to come when you can’t do it on your own. And you gotta be strong enough on that day to ask for help.”

If you or someone you know needs help, you can call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging 741741.

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