Today’s guest columnist is Kalen Jackson, vice chair and owner of the Indianapolis Colts.
“Am I going to be OK?”
This is a question I would ask myself constantly, starting around the age of 8. And to be honest, it’s a question I still ask myself today in my lower moments as a 34-year-old. I know this question is not unique to me. Millions of people ask themselves this every… single… day. My family, the Indianapolis Colts organization and I are determined to change the narrative around mental health and help more people realize it is OK to not be OK.
I grew up in a home where I was surrounded by unconditional love, support and trust, but there also was a lot of uncertainty, fear and emotional trauma related to mental health challenges in my own family. The thing about mental health is that, when you are in a crisis, it doesn’t matter what zip code you live in, what ethnicity you are, how much money you make, or how many touchdowns you score. Simply put, mental health issues do not discriminate. They affect everyone.
The realities of mental health have been a part of my day-to-day life for as long as I can remember. I don’t take for granted the fact that I not only had the resources and ability to get the help, but I had the support in finding help. As my anxiety issues began to reveal themselves, talking about my struggles brought me relief in the most difficult times of my life. I credit starting therapy as a 9-year-old for giving me a different perspective on myself and others, while showing me how to find strength in my vulnerability. But the truth is, many people don’t have the resources to find help, and a lot of people still do not feel comfortable sharing their struggles because of the stigma too often associated with mental illness.
Reducing that stigma is where my family first saw an opening to make a difference.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a growing awakening of cultural leaders—NFL players, artists, tennis players, TV stars—who have begun to share their mental health journeys publicly. Over the past several weeks, we saw arguably the greatest Olympian of our generation sacrifice potential medals to protect her mental health.
Simply put, the more that role models are willing to use their voices and their platforms, the more we are able to bring this issue out of the shadows.
That’s why I was honored to join the board of directors of a new groundbreaking nonprofit, Project Healthy Minds. The organization is engaging icons and influencers to destigmatize mental health and building technology to make it easier for people across the country to find mental health services.
That’s also why the Colts started our Kicking The Stigma effort. We know our platform in the NFL can make a difference in bringing this issue to the forefront. That’s why during the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats game last fall, my family decided to join our players in highlighting an important community cause, in our case mental health. As we were taping a video testimonial for the game, my father, Colts CEO and owner Jim Irsay, was so moved that he decided we needed to share this message nationally, in the hopes of inspiring others to join us in this initiative.
So what started as a simple conversation among my dad and sisters blossomed into a series of national PSAs, followed by a week-long virtual fundraiser during Mental Health Awareness Month this past May that raised $4.5 million and featured support from Peyton Manning, Carson Daly, Rob Lowe, Snoop Dogg, Cameron Crowe, Mike Epps, Tony Dungy and others.
Since our launch in late 2020, the response has been inspiring and life-changing. The number of people and organizations across the country who have reached out to be involved, donate or just share their own personal stories are countless. We feel like we touched a nerve—in a very positive way—and this shows us how urgent the need for these conversations truly are.
In recent months, we’ve seen an unprecedented focus on mental health from different corners of the world, in part spurred by the pandemic. But even when life returns to normal, we cannot let the momentum of this moment disappear.
In the upcoming months, the Colts will announce the recipients of the first ever Kicking The Stigma Action Grants, which we created to help fund nonprofits working in this space. We’re planning to use a home Colts game in September to further highlight these issues and educate our fans and others about the importance of mental health. Finally, we plan to continue to help kick the stigma around mental health through a new series of national PSAs this fall.
We must continue to take the necessary steps to bring this discussion out of the dark and into the light of day so more of our family, friends and neighbors will be able to seek and receive the help they need.
This is why this issue is so important to me. When I started working on this initiative, I knew in my heart I was meant to be part of this mission. I hope someone reads this and feels, even for one moment, that they are going to be OK.
You are enough. You are not alone. Please don’t give up.
Jackson is entering her 10th season as vice chair/owner of the Colts. She is involved in various functions of the organization, including oversight of the team’s community and philanthropic efforts, and serves on the national board of Project Healthy Minds.