I was asked by some Grade 3 students last year about who some of my heroes are and I used local radio celebrities Jeremy McGoran and Marianne McHale as examples.
I admired Jeremy and Marianne for their courage to admit they struggled with anxiety and depression. They helped reduce the stigma attached to mental health and did it without feeling ashamed, embarrassed or coming across as weak.
Being in politics or on the radio puts you in the limelight and people that you’ve never met before feel like they are somehow connected to you or know you. It can be difficult to handle on its own and invasive to your privacy. As a society we put so much energy and concern into what other people think about us or some situation that we lose our own identity or personality.
I first heard about Jeremy’s suicide at a B.C. Hockey awards dinner where we were honoring a 17-year-old player for his advocacy and work for mental health in organized sport. Sport is one those avenues that not only provides exercise and social interaction, but teaches kids life lessons. Sport should be about teaching the value of working hard, teamwork and the joys and sorrows of winning and losing.
The pressure we put on kids to exceed in sport, school and life can be overwhelming. We focus so much on the elite athlete, scholar, or winning that we take the fun out of the activity for many, and make others feel insecure about their abilities.
While kids still participate because their friends do, or they feel it’s the thing to do, I think many kids simply go through the motions and hope the ball or puck never comes their way. Our focus has strayed from fun and the basic fundamentals training that inspire confidence. Kids are too worried about the coach, their friends/teammate, or the passionate parent yelling at them. If not addressed early, that going-through-the-motions attitude continues into adulthood and can add to feelings of stress, anxiety, isolation and depression.
We live in a society focused on negativity, distrust and selfish ambition at the expense of the common good. We rarely celebrate success with the same amount of interest, discussion or pride as we do with the pessimism in the world today. We have fostered a culture of negativity in our opinions, views and sense of entitlement in our daily lives.
Being overcome by stress, anxiety and depression is not new. The fact that people commit suicide isn’t a big city problem or just something you hear about on the news; it is real and happens more often than you think. When we imagine mental health we often find ourselves thinking of negative images and stereotypes. It is so sad that many people are so worried about the stigma attached to mental health that they don’t seek help. The fact is one in five Canadians will suffer from mental illness sometime in their lifetime.
My heart was filled with sorrow hearing about Jeremy; however it was soon uplifted as members of the community stepped up to offer help for the family and create a support network. Whether your issue is around physical, financial, spiritual or mental health, the first step is acknowledging it and talking about it. The initial first step to reach out and talk is the hardest, but you will soon find that each step moves you forward to a solution and a better place. You will also find out that you are not alone in your struggles and many will be there for you along the way.
The vibrancy and vitality of a community isn’t gauged by a population number but rather how we treat each other, demonstrate community pride, and gather as a community in times of need.