Damar Hamlin’s goal was shocking. How to deal with it after experiencing trauma
Everyone saw the collision. The collapse. The CPR. The ambulance. The shock on the faces of the players.
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest Monday night after attacking Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins and received about 10 minutes of CPR before going to an ambulance.
Details of what exactly happened are not available. But experts say the trauma for players, game participants and viewers watching at home lingers – and they need to process it before it festers.
“It’s okay not to be okay right now,” says Lindsay DiStefano, department head of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut.
The details:Everything we know about Damar Hamlin’s collapse and cardiac arrest in the Bills vs Bengals game
Damar Hamlin incident ‘very difficult’ to watch
- Key Takeaway: Everything you’re feeling is normal, and it’s more than okay to ask for help. Even if society encourages radical stoicism, especially for men.
- “In football culture, we’re often taught hypermasculinity and the compartmentalization of emotions, and boys in particular are socialized to only express things like anger. Not sadness, grief, grief, anxiety, fear,” says Kevin Chapman, licensed psychologist and founder and director of the Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders.
- Everyone from the football player to the staff to the spectators at home are dealing with the trauma of what they experienced.
- “Emotions have to be discussed explicitly and nothing has to be delineated or it gets bigger, that’s a fact,” says Chapman, himself a former college football player.
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Watching someone close to you collapse is especially upsetting to anyone. “I had to watch my father get CPR,” says Dr. Laxmi Mehta, director of preventive cardiology and women’s cardiovascular health at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. “The mental impact of watching someone go into cardiac arrest is very challenging.”
Anyone watching the game, including those predisposed to anxiety disorders or those who have previously experienced similar trauma themselves. Over the next two weeks to a month, consider whether this situation has caused you personal distress and affected your day-to-day functioning, Chapman says. It’s normal but may require professional help.
Social media feeds have been inundated with comments from many, including athletes.
Sport and mental, physical health
Situations like Hamlin’s are rare, although football in particular comes with all sorts of risks like CTE. Nevertheless, sport is woven into the social fabric of the United States like almost nothing else.
“Sports present an incredible opportunity to offer so many benefits to all players,” says DiStefano. “It’s entertainment, of course, when it comes to the NFL, but it’s physical activity that’s so important for health. It’s fun, it’s fun, participating in sports has been shown time and time again to have mental health benefits. It’s character building.”
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But the mental pressure and physical strain come at a price; Athletes like Simone Biles have helped shape discussions about mental health in sport. This can now be built upon.
“The NFL needs to provide psychological counseling, in a group or individually, not just for players on the field but for other players if they feel they need that help,” Mehta said. (Both the NFL and NFLPA provide countless free mental health resources to players and families; additional measures are also being taken to support players and employees.)
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Experts are hoping that Higgins in particular will get the care he needs; Chapman worries about the survivor’s possible guilt and wonders if he could have switched or taken a different path. “He needs to have support around him right away,” says Chapman. “And he must also be allowed to process events and very explicitly discuss with a psychiatrist the evaluations or thoughts or realizations, all of which are synonymous with the same concept.”
Parents of young children who have seen the game may find it difficult to support them. DiStefano recommends letting children guide the discussion and meeting them where they are.
What to learn from the breakdown of Damar Hamlin
- Remember that trauma affects everyone differently. “Some people may be acutely reacting now and need help, and for some people it may not affect them for some time,” says Mehta. “They may not process it mentally until later. We need to recognize the differences in how we react to these events and how we recover afterwards.”
- Chapman suggests developing protocols for such future incidents, such as “as soon as we see something happening, immediately go into publicity, not go into the details of the event, as many commentators do. And of course definitely not retweet footage. These are all things that can retraumatize people and give them the impression that they are actually in danger right now.”
- Maybe next time we can better prepare for the inevitable. “Unfortunately, every event like this leads to bringing people together and realizing how short life can be,” says Chapman. “If we have a preventative approach rather than an intervention like what we’re seeing right now, we can prepare for things like this.”
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