The Irsay Family Steps Up Efforts to Raise Mental Health Awareness | sports

The Irsay Family Steps Up Efforts to Raise Mental Health Awareness |  sports

“The tough issue, I think, here is we as human beings are making it harder on other human beings that are suffering,” Irsay said during a video conference call this week. “A lot of times, I think, it is unintentional. Sometimes it’s not even consciously – it’s unconsciously. But that dynamic that exists where people are trying to get well and there is a theater, an atmosphere, that is a negative situation to try to encourage people to seek help. Again, they are afraid. They are scared. They are lonely. They are outgunned, and they need support in a big way. “We’ve really tried to approach it from that aspect because doing a lot of things – building buildings in the community that house treatment centers, etc., giving money to different causes. But I think a big part of it has been we really need to raise the awareness and try and reach people in their homes and reach people at that moment that they are at that point of suffering, and they may not make it or not, and maybe we get through to them.”

The fact this initiative is coming from a professional football team makes it unique, and there’s a star-studded roster set for a virtual fundraiser to kick off Mental Health Awareness Month from May 3-6. “Of course, you wouldn’t wish to do them again necessarily, but it made me who I am. It made (Irsay) who he is, and it made us who we are as people – and really trying not to shy away from that and really wearing that as a badge of honor: ‘I got through this, and I’m better for it.’”

“We both – even from the start of the PSAs to now – continually get letters and stories, and we read every single one of them,” Colts vice chair/owner Kalen Jackson said, referencing her father, Irsay. “I want people to know who have sent those, shared their stories and have been so vulnerable with us, it’s something that is truly the beauty of strength and vulnerability. I personally find that my biggest strengths and our family’s biggest strengths come through those moments that were the hardest for us. In addition to the roundtable, there will be an online auction for unique experiences with or signed memorabilia from celebrities including comedian Jim Gaffigan, Colts legends Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne and Jeff Saturday, general manager Chris Ballard, head coach Frank Reich, quarterback Carson Wentz and Leonard.

Those types of personal testimonials are at the heart of this initiative. The event will include a roundtable discussion hosted by NBC’s Carson Daly and featuring Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst, Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and Raiders tight end Darren Waller sharing their personal experiences with mental health.

“I am thankful for how the Colts and the Irsays are tackling mental health stigma, as the more public the discussions are around mental health the more it will be normalized and seen as one of just many health conditions someone may have,” said Cathy Boggs, representing the board of directors for Mental Health America-Indiana. “This campaign comes at such a critical time in Indiana as the number of people seeking mental health and addiction care is increasing and more young people are struggling with their mental health. This illness does not discriminate.” Plans also include testimonials and messages from stars including Oscar-winning writer and director Cameron Crowe, actor Rob Lowe, comedian Mike Epps, Frank and Linda Reich, Manning, Dungy and Daly.

The Irsay family already has committed more than $4 million in the past year to expand treatment services in Indiana. But it’s the more personal touches that mean the most. Funds generated will be donated to MHA Indiana, NAMI Greater Indianapolis, Project Healthy Minds and Bring Change to Mind as well as providing grants to Indiana-based nonprofits working in education, support and advocacy of mental health.

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