NBA’s Kevin Love and UCLA’s Michelle Craske: Teamed up for mental health

Kevin Love (Alexandra Martin), Michelle Craske (Reed Hutchinson/UCLA) and compos
Kevin Love (Alexandra Martin), Michelle Craske (Reed Hutchinson/UCLA) and composite (Trever Ducote/UCLA) ’By blending science and transformative awareness-raising, this collaboration is helping to save lives,’ said Tracy Johnson, dean of life sciences in the UCLA College.

NBA star Kevin Love has had many teammates on the basketball court, including his fellow Bruins, the Cleveland Cavaliers and now, of course, the Miami Heat. But one of his all-time favorites may just be his teammate in destigmatizing anxiety and depression: Michelle Craske, UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences.

In fact, Love is proud that the scientist he fondly calls "Badass Dr. Craske" was named the inaugural holder of the Kevin Love Fund Centennial Chair at UCLA — and has completed her first year in the role.

"I cannot imagine a better fit. Not only is Michelle Craske a world-class researcher in diagnosing, preventing, treating and destigmatizing anxiety and depression, but she is a compassionate and inspiring leader who shares my vision for helping people around the world," Love said. "She has been a trusted connection for years, and I am excited to see how she will move the field forward and make an even bigger difference in countless lives."

Craske, who directs the Anxiety and Depression Research Center at UCLA and co-directs the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge, said she takes inspiration from Love’s own contributions to this work.

"This Centennial Chair represents a person who has demonstrated such courage sharing his own struggles with anxiety and depression with the public," she said. "To have my work associated with Kevin Love’s is a great feeling, and this opportunity will help us both expand and enhance the goals that we’re so committed to achieving."

"Michelle Craske and Kevin Love are an ideal team who are pushing this important, healing work forward for the benefit of so many," said Annette Stanton, distinguished professor and chair of psychology at UCLA. "When we consider the incredible impact and potential of this chair and all that it represents, it’s inspiring to note that it sits in the UCLA Department of Psychology, one of the top-ranked departments in the nation."

In her role as chair, Craske will continue to deepen her focus on the three pillars of her work: identifying the risk and resilience factors relevant to anxiety and depression, ensuring that evidence-based treatments are as accessible as possible for all, and making these treatments more effective for each specific person who seeks them.

She will build on multiple recent research developments in her lab, including the novel uses of virtual technologies to deliver treatments targeting people with depression and the use of neurofeedback for treating severe phobias. In addition, her lab will implement a more accessible hybrid mix of services through the Imperial Valley College system, located in a rural area of California with a high incidence of financial stress.

Craske traces her interest in the field back to her own childhood in Tasmania, Australia. She and her two sisters, she said, had to reckon with the long shadow cast by their older brother’s mental health struggles and the inadequate resources, understanding and treatment in place to support him and their family.

"All three of us eventually went into helping professions, informed by our desire to understand these problems and provide better treatments. From an early age, we were aware that the world needed to do better in this respect," Craske said. "My goal is to move the field forward and make a difference in the lives of those who are affected by anxiety and depression, as well as in the lives of their loved ones."

Her work continues to dovetail with that of the Kevin Love Fund, which launched its free social-emotional learning curriculum to K-12 educators last year to help further support young people’s mental health. Currently offering the program to more than 30,000 schoolchildren in the U.S., the fund has begun their global expansion, bringing the curriculum to Ukraine, Gambia, Kenya, Scotland, Brazil, France, Puerto Rico and Canada, with plans to work with programs in New Zealand, Australia and Japan as well.

In the past academic year, support from the Kevin Love Fund Centennial Chair provided funding for both the 2022 Anxiety and Depression Retreat and the 2023 Southern California Learning and Memory Symposium. The funding has also allowed research assistants in Craske’s lab to present at the 2023 Anxiety and Depression Association of America conference and facilitated the appointment of visiting postdoctoral scholar Matthias Sperl in the UCLA Department of Psychology.

"My hope is that one day, we are able to erase the stigma around anxiety and depression. We can only do that by improving diagnosis and treatment, fostering public conversations about mental health and encouraging people to seek help when they need it," Love said. "UCLA — my alma mater — is an incredible institution that does world-changing research and work. My memories at UCLA are unmatched, and between my personal connections to the university and the academic reputation, I’m thrilled that we chose UCLA as our partner in this work."

"It is deeply inspiring to see how Michelle Craske and Kevin Love are changing the conversation around mental health," said Tracy Johnson, dean of life sciences in the UCLA College. "By blending science and transformative awareness-raising, this collaboration is helping to save lives and represents the best ideals of what we do here."