This story explores suicide. If you are at risk, stop here and contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help: 1-800-273-8255
INDIANAPOLIS — It’s raining outside. Take my word for it. Please take my word for much of what you are about to read, as some of you will not understand it and might not even believe it. Once upon a time, I didn’t understand or even believe the depth of the mental health crisis that was digging into our country.
But right now, as these words are being written, it’s raining outside. It’s raining everywhere these days, whether from the sky or the eyes, and it’s raining especially hard in Harrisonburg, Va., where a James Madison University softball player named Lauren Bernett died last week.
Bernett was the third NCAA athlete since early March to die by suicide. First it was Stanford’s Katie Meyer, captain of the football team, then Wisconsin runner Sarah Shulze in mid-April. Now Lauren Bernett. Who will be the next one ? Someone. You don’t have to be an NCAA athlete to get upset about it, obviously. Our sanity crisis is deepening, the ground below us is opening up and engulfing some of us.
This story is in the sports page because it is a sports story. It’s also a lifestyle story, and a business story, and a subway story. Mental health issues can happen to anyone, which some of you don’t understand and therefore might not believe. Like I said, please take my word for it. Once upon a time you didn’t understand, didn’t believe, until my own sanity becomes a problem.
The evidence is everywhere, but we seem to notice only the ugliest headlines, and only until those stories turn into more politically comfortable spaces. A child brings two guns to a Noblesville middle school in 2018 and opens fire. A young man brings two assault rifles to a FedEx facility near Indianapolis International Airport in April and kills eight. These are stories of mental illness, with traffic signs in both cases who have been ignored that became gun control stories.
This next one has become a story of police violence:
A young man from Indianapolis, a gifted pianist, a prodigy, is naked and sweaty as he wanders around his parents’ house, bleeding from the mouth, “having a psychosis”, his father told the police. ‘IMPD who responded to the April 25 emergency appeal. at 3:20 a.m.
The middle of the night is not a good time for such a call. The IMPD has improved its response to mental health crises since 2017, creating Mobile Teams of Crisis Assistants, or MCATs – an officer trained in crisis intervention, accompanied by a clinician – to respond to situations like a man wandering around the house, naked and sweating and bleeding from the mouth, “having a psychosis”.
IMPD has enough MCAT teams to work Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Alas, this crisis happened in the middle of the night, and Herman Whitfield III, a troubled young man, a gifted pianist, a prodigy, was taken from his parents’ home without a heartbeat. He was soon pronounced dead.
It is not a practical subject. Maybe you should stop reading.
Colts owner Jim Irsay’s vulnerability leads to Kicking the Stigma cause
The Indianapolis Colts are trying to help, and look what just happened? It has become a sports thing.
The Colts have been on a crusade for our community for decades, but it was in early 2020 that the Irsay family – Jim Irsay and his daughters Carli, Kalen and Casey – decided they could do more. For years they have builds school playgrounds, team up with Gleaners to distribute food, encouraged the community to help raise over $1 million for school children without access to meals.
“The things we give mean a lot to us,” Kalen (Irsay) Jackson recently told host Mason King. on the IBJ Podcast, “but we never really sat down and thought, ‘Is there something that belongs to us, that represents the interests of our family and the needs of the community? What would that be? A few months before the pandemic, we landed on mental health due to our family ties to the issues.
She said more, but that’s where it starts: with honesty, vulnerability. The Irsay family Kicking the Stigma Initiative – who has raised nearly $20 million in less than 2.5 years for local and national organizations – comes from personal experience.
Kalen Jackson talks about his father. Jim Irsay had well-documented problems with drug addiction, and experts will tell you that problems like these often coalesce in a vicious cycle, with drug addiction leading to mental illness, leading to homelessness, leading to… well, you know where that leads.
Jackson said his family researched mental health in Indiana, “and we were shocked.”
“It was really overwhelming to see the numbers and the statistics, especially in the state of Indiana,” she said on the IBJ podcast. “You could list a variety of things: suicide, depression, even the ability to respond to a mental health crisis. We are not high on this list.
“One of the biggest issues is the stigma of reaching out and asking for help. People think it’s their fault and they don’t deserve help. That’s the one of the main reasons why suicide has increased and substance abuse disorders have increased…. Certainly our personal experience through what (my dad) went through, and we also have a lot of family and friends who have experienced the same things.
More Kalen Jackson here, because honestly, his words speak louder than mine.
“It’s an issue that’s been hidden away,” she said of mental illness, “like the elephant in the room, and we want to talk about it and use our experiences and our vulnerability to hopefully- le, get others to join us and realize that it’s OK to show that side of you. In fact, it can make you feel stronger.
Vulnerability is not weakness, but power. Let me try here: in my family tree, some branches closer to home than others, we have struggled with alcohol and drug abuse, depression, eating disorders, LGBT issues and at least one suicide attempt. We are vulnerable. We are human.
We are normal.
People are dying, but Kim Kardashian is on a red carpet so…
What is the purpose of this story, you may be wondering. Believe me, I’ve written enough – stick to the sport! – to know. Some of you will soon send me an email, or a tweet, or a handwritten letter. Some of you have probably done this before, stepping away from your journal or phone to type angrily:
Hey, sportswriter, who do you think you’re writing for?
If this is your answer to this story, I am writing for you.
You don’t know what you don’t know, which means you can choose ignorance and be part of the problem – or you can try to understand. Few months ago I wrote about tennis star Naomi Osaka’s public battle with mental health, how a taunt during a tournament broke her. Too many readers have sent me a note that said, in so many words:
It is soft.
No, you see, Naomi Osaka is strong and defends herself. Some people, these battles exhaust them. I think of Lauren Bernett of James Madison and everything she’s been through. I’m thinking of Katie Meyer from Stanford and Sarah Shulze from Wisconsin.
I think of John Dell, a childhood friend in Oxford, Miss. He was a year older. He played soccer at age 9 but didn’t like it, so his parents gave his pads and helmet to another kid who wanted to try soccer. I was that child. A few years later, in eighth grade, John Dell committed suicide. We don’t know why.
That was in the 1980s. Suicide rates have skyrocketed ever since, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In the United States in 2018, there were nearly 2½ more suicides (47,511) than homicides (19,141).
Read that again.
What statistics did the Irsay family read, prompting them to create Kicking the Stigma? Maybe something like this, according to the state of Indiana: Our suicide rate has been higher than the national average since 2000, we are one of the 10 states with the highest increase in suicides among people aged 10-24. In 2020, 19.3% of sophomore high school students considered attempting suicide.
The “why” matters, although at this point there is no turning back. Too much time on our phones, too much time on social media, too much physical isolation and virtual intimidation.
Not enough people who care about the issues that matter.
Monday night, for example, the #1 topic nationally on Twitter was the Met Gala, ostensibly a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York, but really just another bonfire of vanities for a society in flames. Apparently Kim Kardashian dressed as Marilyn Monroe. The Met Gala was the most discussed topic of the evening, even more so than news from Washington, DC which the Supreme Court was preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade.
We don’t care enough about what matters, that’s my point. We hope someone will do the heavy lifting for us. Anyone else can vote in this election. Someone else can do the research on this science topic, or that one.
Someone else may be worried about sanity.
Why write this now? Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Because just days ago, James Madison softball player Lauren Bernett became the third NCAA Division I athlete to die by suicide since March, choosing to end her life the day she was named a player. of the week of his conference.
Because a gifted pianist, a prodigy, was naked and sweating and bleeding from the mouth when the police arrived at 3:40 a.m. was silenced forever.
Because the Irsay family needs help. Because WISP needs help. Because our community needs help. Because I don’t care about Kim Kardashian on a red carpet. Because mental health issues don’t hold regular hours.
Because it’s always raining outside. It’s raining harder now.