Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Indiana residents between the ages of 10 and 24. The Irsay family and the Indianapolis Colts, through Kicking The Stigma, are working to change that troubling statistic for the better – with Friday's Beyond The Sidelines event an important, impactful marker in those efforts.
"Those stats aren't meant to make anybody feel bad," Colts Vice Chair/Owner Kalen Jackson said. "For me, those stats wake me up and make me want to share with everybody I know because I can't believe I didn't know that.
"... I come from a family that struggled with mental health, I myself struggled with mental health, and I felt shocked that I didn't know how bad it was."
The story Jackson and the Irsay family hopes to share at Friday's Beyond The Sidelines event – which is sold out – is one of not only the problem surrounding mental health, but the solutions they're working toward through Kicking The Stigma.
"I think that the awareness piece is so huge," Jackson said. "We've spent millions of dollars on PSAs over the last three years and we'll probably continue to do that because so much — it seems like such a simple thing, but that's why Kicking The Stigma is called Kicking The Stigma because stigma is still, to date, the No. 1 reason why someone doesn't get help and might lose their life to a mental health disorder. Those awareness pieces, whether that be the video series that we do with celebrities or players or the PSAs are so important because we hear time and time again, someone saying their kid watched one or their brother saw the PSA and they finally reached out and told them they weren't okay or that they finally got help or finally looked into where they could get help."
Since launching Kicking The Stigma in 2020, the Irsay family and the Colts have awarded $4.1 million in action grants to 38 Indiana-based nonprofits to support programs focused on mental health and mental illness education, support and advocacy. An example of the impact of those grants: Indiana Youth Group, which provides services to local LGBTQ+ youth, was able to start a free mental health counseling program with the Kicking The Stigma action grant it received.
Kicking The Stigma, too, has committed over $17 million toward expanding mental health treatment, research and awareness locally and nationally. Jackson has been deliberate on which organizations have received and will receive funding with the goal of making the greatest positive impact possible on mental health, since when people come to her and say they want to help, often they don't know where or how to start.
And through Kicking The Stigma, Jackson has spent countless hours working with mental health experts – she participated in Indiana Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch's Roundtable on Mental Health and has had extensive conversations with local hospitals – to determine where that long-lasting impact can be made.
"The infrastructure is messy and the infrastructure is broken, but that doesn't mean that we can't fix it," Jackson said. "And I think we feel like we're able to do some of that heavy lifting work and really talk to a lot of experts, whether that be with the state or with specific hospitals like IU Health and St. Vincent and really learn where can we interject ourselves to make the biggest impact and actually make long-lasting change.
"Not just today, not just this month, but I think our biggest goal through Kicking The Stigma is how to do we help fix the infrastructure that's broken and help build it back up from the ground up. I feel like with Beyond the Sidelines benefitting Kicking The Stigma, we're really able to showcase how we've been doing that to people and really tell that story in a different way than we've been able to do now because we get to be in person."
While Beyond The Sidelines is sold out, those looking to support Kicking The Stigma can donate at Colts.com/KTS and bid on auction items – which include Colts memorabilia and once-in-a-lifetime experiences – here.
Jackson said the goal is for Beyond The Sidelines – which this year is headlined by multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer – to be an annual event that grows over time. The first Kicking The Stigma fundraiser was held in the spring of 2021 over Zoom; having an in-person event with Beyond The Sidelines will not only help Kicking The Stigma support more mental health initiatives, but will help chip away at the stigma still so often associated with mental health disorders.
"People talk to us all the time about how genuine it feels, and that's because it is genuine," Jackson said. "We have lived it, we have seen it. We've seen it in our family, we've seen it in our friends, in our extended family — you name it. And it's painful and it's lonely and I think we just want to be a part of making there be more light at the end of the tunnel for people that are struggling with this, but also to shed light on the fact that this exists in almost every single family in one way, shape or form."