Watching a friend and former teammate struggle with bouts of depression was all the motivation Myles Mattila needed.
Three years ago, Mattila, then just 15, decided he would do whatever he could to help raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental health.
“It was hard watching a friend going through depression, neither of us even knew what depression was at the time,” said Mattila, now 18. “It was sad seeing him isolating himself, I didn’t know how to help, so I decided to learn as much as I could about mental health.
“It’s about getting people to discuss mental health for the right reasons, to remove the stigma and let people know if they are struggling, it’s OK to talk about it and reach out for help.”
While living in Prince George and playing hockey last season with the Cariboo Cougars, Mattila launched MindRight, a program designed to enhance mental health and wellness for youth.
“There haven’t always been a lot of resources for young athletes,” said Mattila, who now lives in Kelowna with his family. “Sometimes there can be a lot of pressure, so what do they do with all that stress?
“It’s about knowing what steps to take when they see the signs and it seems more people are affected by (mental health issues) all the time. People feel handcuffed because they don’t know what it is, who to talk to or where to turn.”
Recognition of Mattila’s advocacy and promotion in the mental health field has been steadily growing in B.C. and across the country.
The soon-to-be Kelowna Chiefs’ forward was honoured in June with B.C. Hockey’s Chair of the Board Award, presented annually to an individual who has “brought honour to the amateur hockey fraternity through an outstanding humanitarian endeavour.”
Mattila’s promotion of mental health even caught the attention of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who sent a direct tweet to Mattila following his B.C. Hockey award.
“A young player making a difference – congratulations on your award for promoting youth mental health,” the tweet read.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 29, 2017
“It was a surprise, I had to look at it twice,” Mattila said of the PM’s tweet.
“It was great. The best part is that it shows people are responding to the cause and are taking the subject of youth mental health seriously.”
This fall, Mattila will play hockey with Kelowna’s junior B Chiefs, while also studying in the business program at Okanagan College. Chiefs’ head coach Jason Tansem said Mattila will be a valuable asset to the team and the community as a whole.
“For us we’ve always been focused on recruiting good people first and Myles certainly fits that mold,” Tansem said of Mattila, who also played one season with the Okanagan Rockets.
“Having someone like Myles here is good for not just Kelowna but our entire league. Knowing somebody is out there who is sensitive to mental health issues, that it’s not this macho thing and his peers can talk about, is invaluable.
“It’s going to be a benefit to our team, Kelowna Minor Hockey and the entire hockey community.”
With a passion for hockey and keen interest in furthering his education, Mattila is excited to be able to pursue both ambitions while living close to family and friends.
“The Chiefs are personally my best choice, it’s a chance to play hockey, go to school and be where my family is all at the same time,” said Mattila, who has earned numerous scholarships to help pay for his education.
“Jason has helped me out a lot and the organization has really backed me up on the school decision and my interest in mental health.”
Mattila hopes to soon launch an initiative in Kelowna similar to the MindRight program.
He also continues to volunteer in the community and plans to do some work with Foundry Kelowna, a youth-service centre for kids and teens in need of mental health care and social services that is set to open this fall.