Vkings, C. J. Ham says he struggles with the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Vkings, C.
J. Ham says he struggles with the stigma surrounding mental illness.

fulback for the Minnesota Vikings C.
J. Ham and the team are fighting the stigma associated with mental illness by being open about Ham’s struggles.

J. Ham experienced a dual crisis.

A family that had clung to hope through prayer was forced to make a painful concession to a devastating diagnosis when pancreatic cancer forced his mother into hospice care for the last 10 days of her life in May 2020.

Ham, a fullback for the Minnesota Vikings who made the Pro Bowl, watched helplessly as Tina, 57, withered in a bed in a Duluth hospital.

Ham’s grief was complicated by anger, though, because George Floyd’s police killing and his mother’s time in hospice happened at the same time.
Being a Black man, he was deeply hurt by the injustice.

As a coping mechanism, Ham turned to his faith, but he also tried something new and sought therapy.
In an effort to combat the stigma that prevents many from seeking mental health care, the Vikings are making a larger push for him to publicly share this story with a focus on people of color.

Ham acknowledged his own struggles.
“I occasionally experience depressed moods.
These are my good days.
Asking for assistance is acceptable because we are all only human.

There are numerous known obstacles to receiving mental health treatment, such as financial concerns and a lack of knowledge about where to turn for assistance.
Negative perceptions and the fear of discrimination have long been factors. Stigma can reinforce structural problems with accessing care, like limited psychiatric beds in hospitals and gaps in health insurance coverage.

According to data from a federal survey conducted in 2021, only about half of people with mental illnesses receive treatment, and treatment rates were even lower for Black and Hispanic/Latino patients.

But Floyd’s murder and the COVID-19 pandemic caused a social trauma that changed patients’ attitudes toward and willingness to receive mental health care.

Researchers released study findings in August, showing that overall mental health utilization in employer health plans increased by about 39% in August 2022 compared to before the pandemic.
High-profile athletes like NBA player Kevin Love, gymnast Simone Biles, and tennis player Naomi Osaka have openly shared their struggles with the public, supporting the conversation.

The Vikings introduced a website section called “Getting Open” in March 2021 with testimonials about the value of mental health and wellbeing from individuals other than players like Ham, such as a writer for the team’s website and the organization’s COO.

According to Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota, a mental health advocacy organization, messages from Black athletes have the potential to foster trust in racial and ethnic communities where people are understandably reluctant to discuss mental health for fear of triggering further discrimination.

She added that encouraging words from coworkers and leaders can help shift perceptions and advance treatment, particularly if more employers also advocate for better mental illness coverage in health insurance policies.

“We are hearing more people talk about mental health than ever before,” said Abderholden, whose organization has received funding from the Vikings.
“If talking about it is acceptable, then seeking treatment is acceptable.

Zooming in brings revelation.

In every way, the Vikings’ regular monthly staff meeting in April 2020 was unique.

The team had changed to a work-from-home model as had the majority of workplaces as a result of COVID-19.
Although there was a lot of work to be done in advance of the NFL draft, chief operating officer Andrew Miller was aware that many people were experiencing stress and anxiety.

The majority of the team’s 250 members joined the Zoom call.
Miller chose to discuss his own battles with depression in order to reassure them that they should feel free to seek mental health care if necessary.

Between his junior and senior years of high school, according to Miller, he experienced a trying time during which he withdrew from friends and family, thinking they didn’t want to spend time with him.
His depression got worse because of his isolation, which made it difficult for him to exercise, eat right, or sleep.
Miller, a baseball pitcher who later walked-on at the University of California-Berkeley, was an athlete, so the fitness lapse was particularly unusual for him.

Miller’s condition improved with the aid of a therapist, but depression has periodically returned during times of personal stress and professional setbacks.
He manages with healthy routines that include battling his introverted tendencies and occasionally seeing a psychologist.

Miller advised the staff that day to never be afraid to seek therapy and medication for treatment.

Because it can quickly spiral downward, he said in an interview, “mental health is something that I’m always trying to be aware of, for myself.”.
As part of a national initiative to get C-suite executives to open up about mental health, Miller shared his story in May.

need assistance so badly.

In the fall of 2020, Lindsey Young became ill from COVID and thought back to Miller’s advice.
Even though the pandemic illness only caused mild symptoms in her, it had a terrible negative impact on her mental health.

For several weeks, she had trouble finding time to eat, sleep, and complete her work at the Vikings Entertainment Network, which runs the team’s radio, television, and website operations.
There seemed to be an endless frequency to the panic attacks.
She once called one of the team’s mental health clinicians in tears, saying she didn’t know what to do and was in need of assistance.

Despite the fact that Young had to wait about two months for an appointment, she was appreciative when a family member suggested a therapist.
The Vikings clinician’s regular phone calls served as a conduit to treatment.

In an interview, Young said, “At that point, I was like, ‘I’m going to see this therapist or no one,’ because I don’t have the energy to call around and try to find someone where I can get in quicker.

When Young had the idea to write a story about a former Vikings player who was prepared to publicly discuss his anxiety disorder, things were looking up for her. The piece served as the first in a website series that has so far featured about 20 articles, including ones on Young, Miller, and Ham as well as former team tight end Tyler Conklin, retirees Robert Smith and Bryant McKinnie, and other players.

Since Everson Griffen revealed he has bipolar disorder two years ago, he has not been a part of the series.

Not just the Vikings are emphasizing mental health.
Hockey Talks, a campaign to raise mental health awareness, was launched by the Minnesota Wild this spring.
The San Francisco Giants are running an anti-stigma campaign in baseball. And starting in 2019, the NFL and its players union have worked together on a project to change the way the league views mental health.

Racial and ethnic gaps.

Brownell Mack, a team clinician, was hired by the Vikings four years ago in part because of this.
This summer, the psychologist made a few cameos in the Netflix series “Quarterback,” which followed three NFL players, including Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings, throughout the previous football season.

Mack drew attention to the issues surrounding mental health in communities of color in his Getting Open story.
The infamous syphilis study at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a research project that allowed hundreds of Black men to go without treatment between 1943 and 1972, as well as other historical events, are examples of why some people are reluctant to seek treatment, Mack said.

Even though there have been improvements, Mack said that the profession still lacks a sufficient number of minority members.
This is because too many mental health professionals lack the necessary training to provide culturally competent care.


“There has been incremental improvement,” he claimed.
But the disparity in access to and use of mental health services between Whites and Blacks has persisted over time. I can confidently state from anecdotal evidence that the stigma is still strongly felt by African Americans.

Ham was raised in the Black community, where he was aware of the stigma associated with mental health.
He claimed that although the issue received little attention, there was a perception that those who had problems were “crazy” and were thus subject to different treatment.

After Floyd was killed, Ham read comments on social media from friends who appeared unconcerned with suffering in the Black community and unwilling to take into account potential causes of the rioting.

Ham admitted, “I’ve hit rock bottom.
“I was at home, sitting on the stairs, just contemplating what had been said.
And all I wanted to do was go around my house and smash everything. I was merely furious. And when you’re angry, you want to express yourself, even if it’s about your own issues or your own community.

Ham chose to see a therapist because, a year later, he was still not feeling like himself.
They discussed how racism continues to be a trauma in America.
And despite the family’s prayers, Ham spoke of his ongoing grief over the loss of his mother.

The discussions made clear how crucial honesty is.

Ham claimed that in order to feel comforted once more by his religious faith, he needed to express his frustrations.
And he needed to be strong for his teammates and family, so he acknowledged the emotional difficulties.

He admitted, “I just put on a mask and tried to be OK when I wasn’t.
“So therapy made it easier for me to express that, to say what I was feeling.
No one’s assistance was specifically requested by me. I simply had to speak.
Just having it out loud was all I needed.

Minnesota’s mental health crisis is revealed by desperate search for care.

The Star Tribune has analyzed recently released data to show that Medicaid and medical insurers pay hospitals for the treatment of psychoses at a much lower rate per day than for other typical physical conditions.

Christopher Snowbeck writes about the industry of running hospitals and clinics as well as health insurers like UnitedHealth Group, based in Minnetonka.


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