Statement from Black Psychiatrists of America
on Damar Hamlin and SCA
January 17, 2023
On Monday, January 2nd, 2023, millions of people were stunned as they witnessed 24 year old NFL Player Damar Hamlin, complete what appeared to be an ordinary tackle, but then collapse on the field after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Almost miraculously, with the timely use of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED), and with the help of many dedicated physicians and medical teams, Hamlin’s health has gradually improved. In the immediate days after the incident, while Hamlin’s health was in limbo, other individuals and organizations rushed to speculate on the causes; to be among the first to offer thoughts and prayers; and to position themselves and even the NFL’s needs at the center of this near tragedy. We the Black Psychiatrists of America (BPA), however, see this as only the beginning of a much-needed conversation and offer interventions on behalf of the millions of athletes across America, particularly of the African Diaspora.
SCA is the leading cause of death of athletes during exercise and poses a major public health issue, as nearly 400,000 adults and 23,000 children experience an out of hospital SCA each year in America. However, SCA is not just a distressing event for the person who experiences it, but also has a major impact on their family, their teammates and coaches, their school or organization, and the community at large. The BPA feels a strong responsibility to address this, as several studies have reported higher rates of Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) in general, and SCD at younger ages in Black people compared to white.
From a mental health lens, and as physicians, we of the BPA also know that people with higher anxiety have a 2-fold higher chance of experiencing SCA, and that the more severe their anxiety the more impactful the risk. As advocates and providers of mental health care, we know the importance of psychiatric screening and early intervention as it pertains to SCA. It does not end there: After cardiac arrest, many people report higher incidences of psychological distress, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those who witness SCA are at increased risk for vicarious trauma. However, unlike other cardiovascular diseases, there are not yet any established guidelines for the assessment and treatment of the psychological adverse effects of SCA.
Research shows that even teammates and coaches have demonstrated fear, helplessness, avoidance, and impaired functioning, after witnessing serious athletic injuries. When other athletes, as a result, change the way they play, that increases their risk for personal injury. Still, many sporting leagues, including the NFL, do not have contract guarantees, and players are not vested in their contracts typically until they have played and proven themselves to their organization for 3-4 years. Even NCAA collegiate athlete scholarships are evaluated for renewal each year. How does that impact the risks one takes, and the pressure to continue, when their own financial security and contributions to their family and community can be lost at any moment? The BPA wants you to know that we see you.
To Damar Hamlin, we thank you for your heart of generosity and all you have done to give back to the community from encouraging hospital visits to your toy drive. We hope for you to have complete healing, as well as healthy guidance for your career, on what we pray is a long future ahead. We offer our support to assist in the fundraising drive for both your charity and your family’s needs.
To Tee Higgins, please know that guilt after a traumatic experience is normal. That does not make this your fault. Trauma related guilt is a risk factor for developing several mental health disorders, suicidal ideation, and can persist without appropriate treatment. We urge you to seek whatever help you need.
To the family, friends, coaches, teammates and all parties intimately affected by the events of January 2nd, we hope that you will utilize all available resources provided by the NFL and NFLPA for your collective healing. It is also our hope that the risks the athletes take and the losses they suffer, as a part of their sacrifice and dedication to their sport, be considered, as long-term care support plans are negotiated in collective bargaining agreements.
To sports fans and all those who witnessed the traumatic event of Monday January 2nd, our wish is that you are now aware that it is normal to be affected by what you saw; and that it is imperative that you address any experienced signs of trauma. Utilize resources such as the Crisis text line: US text HOME to 741-741, Canada text 686-868 or 741741, UK text 852-58; (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline, for emotional distress related to any disaster 1-800-985-5990; SAMHSA National Helpline for substance use and other mental health issues 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889; and the National suicide prevention lifeline: 988.
To the Black Community at large, encompassing all those of the African-Diaspora, we of the BPA are here to provide mental health guidance. We continue to hold true to our mission “to address issues affecting the mental health of African people worldwide with special emphasis on Persons of African descent in the Americas and to provide a forum for continuing education for those who provide psychiatric care to these underserved population groups”. In that spirit, we the BPA commit to the linked commitments and action plan.
Together, we can make a difference!
Cynthia Turner-Graham M.D., D.F.A.P.A.- President
Napoleon Higgins, M.D.- Executive Director
Stephen McLeod-Bryant M.D.- President Elect
Benjamin Roy, M.D.- Immediate Past President
Tammara Davis, M.D.- Secretary
Ikwunga Wonodi, M.D., M.B.A, D.F.A.P.A.- Treasurer
Tiffani L. Bell, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.P.A., DipABOM; DipABLM- Mid-Atlantic/ Eastern Regional Trustee Region I; Co-chair of Communications Committee
Gina Newsome Duncan, M.D. - Southern Regional Trustee, Region II
Welton C. Washington, M.D.- Midwestern Regional Trustee, Region III
Wilsa M.S. Charles Malveaux, M.D., M.A., F.A.P.A.- Chair of Sports Psychiatry Committee; Western Regional Trustee, Region IV.
Geoffrey Walcott, MB.BS, DM- International Trustee, Region V
Danielle Hairston, M.D.- Chairperson, Scientific Program Committee
Annelle Primm, M.D., M.P.H., D.F.A.P.A.- Friend of the Board; Council of Elders; Past Deputy Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association; Past director of the Office of Minority and National Affairs
Altha Stewart, M.D.- Council of Elders; Co-Chairperson & Chairperson 50th Anniversary Committee; Past President of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Past President, Black Psychiatrists of America (BPA), Past President, Association of Women Psychiatrists (AWP), and Medical Director, WNBA
Michael Ingram, M.D. - Board Member
William Lawson M.D., Ph.D., DLFAPA- Board Member
Samuel Okpaku, MD, PhD- Board Member
Ja’Nelle Blocker M.D.- Board Member-In-Training