The Trouble with Stigma
At some point in their lives, one in five American adults and 20 percent of Canadians will experience mental illness. In Canada, suicide accounts as the cause of the death for 24 percent of people ages 15 to 24 and 16 percent of people ages 25 to 44. In the United States, suicide is the tenth overall leading cause of death, third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, and second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24. As shown by the numbers, mental illness is something that affects everyone, whether directly or indirectly. It doesn’t discriminate. Everyone can relate to it, whether they know it or not. The problem is, no one wants to talk about it. The common feelings and thoughts towards the subject are generally negative. People face fears of being harassed, discriminated against or misunderstood by their family or social circles. This leads to people being more reluctant to seek treatment or admit they need it. Instead, they choose to hide and try to deal with it themselves, possibly making the issue worse and putting themselves into danger.
Along the way, numerous projects, foundations, and websites have been started by the hockey community to fight back against the stigma. Hockey Talks is a campaign that all seven Canadian NHL clubs take part in each year. Founded in 2011, each team dedicates one night to bring awareness to mental health and try to end the stigma associated with mental illness. This year, the effort will take part between January 26 and February 29. Project 11 is an education plan for youth in grades five through eight in Manitoba that focuses on mental health awareness. It was started by the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation, inspired and in honor of Rick Rypien. Mindcheck.ca is a website designed for youth in British Columbia — though anyone can use it, to help them identify and understand problems they may be facing and offering links to services if they’re needed. DIFD (also known as Do It For Daron) was started in honor of Daron Richardson, and is a program that encourages kids to talk about mental health and ask for help if they need it. A handful of teams also host mental health awareness nights during the season similar to the Canadian NHL teams’ Hockey Talks campaign. #BellLetsTalk, while not sponsored by a team/league but endorsed by many in the hockey community, is an annual day dedicated to raising money for mental health initiatives and services across Canada.
A Personal Account
These sites, services, and initiatives are all important. I’ll sum up why they’re so important with this: they’re important because they’re working. I know they’re working because I’m proof they’re working. I’m stubborn as hell sometimes, and they helped me, which is exactly how I know they’re working. I was one of many who suffered because of the stigma around mental illness. For years, I put off going to get help because I refused to admit I had a problem and I needed help, even though I knew I wasn’t okay. A few months before I turned 17, the depression I’d been in reached an ultimate low while my anxiety reached an ultimate high. This was around the time I discovered Mindcheck and the story of Rick Rypien, when hockey practically became my lifeline. I held Rick’s story close to my heart. I bookmarked mindcheck with the thought of “you never know, could need it” running through my head.
Late one night, trying and failing to fight off a panic attack while everyone else in the house slept, I tried mindcheck, just to see if it would confirm anything. It told me exactly what I already knew, was refusing to admit, and continued to refuse to admit until I again visited mindcheck and was given the exact same results I’d been given the first time.
I couldn’t tell you when, but at some point from then to six months ago I had a breakdown — alright, several breakdowns, and a breakthrough. One last trip to mindcheck and another terrible panic attack, and I found myself finally admitting to myself what everyone else had been trying to tell me all along; I was depressed, my anxiety was terrible, and I couldn’t fight this fight on my own anymore. I needed serious help, and I needed it as soon as I could possibly get it.
It took me a very long time to write those words and not be embarrassed about them. It also took me a very long time to say the words “I have a mental illness” and not feel shame afterward. Things like mindcheck, Hockey Talks, Project 11, those helped make the shame disappear. Those are part of what brought me to where I am today; still struggling, but getting better and getting help, and no longer ashamed of my struggle or getting help.
Summing It Up Simply
Not talking about mental health doesn’t help. Pretending mental illness isn’t there or that it’ll just go away on it’s own doesn’t help either. It just makes things worse. We need more programs like Hockey Talks, #BellLetsTalk, DIFD, Project 11, and mindcheck, along with all the other programs that are out there. We need to talk about this more, and we need to learn to listen without judgment more. It’s more important than we realize. It’s saving more people than we realize. Talking, or just knowing someone’s there no matter what, that can save a life.
I know, it saved mine.