Fit and tough as nails is a stereotype that leads to mental health issues in athletes being overlooked, but a new program in the B.C. Hockey League hopes to address that.
“You hear how all hockey players are such tough athletes and it’s such a tough sport. That they don’t have to talk about this stuff, but when you look deep underneath the covers there are people who go through everyday problems,” said Penticton Vees captain Tyson Jost. “We’re just like any other athletes and people for that matter. There is nothing special to us. We’re just normal beings playing a game that we love. We all go through tough times.”
Jost has seen it first-hand with a former teammate with the Okanagan Rockets in the B.C. Major Midget League. In his lone season with the Rockets, Jost and his teammates rallied around a player who went through hard times.
“You look at hockey, it’s such a tough sport. It is hard,” said Jost. “There is a lot of pressure. It’s great when you have that back support around your team and you can go to people and talk to.”
The BCHL is teaming up with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to launch Talk Today.
Talk Today is a mental health education program designed for BCHL players, and their supporters, to learn about mental health and increase their skills to help support players who may be struggling or at risk of suicide.
Myles Mattila, 16, is a Kelowna player who has also been a mental health advocate for several years because of two events: when he didn’t know how to help one of his hockey teammates who was experiencing mental health issues, and the passing of former Vancouver Canucks’ player, Rick Rypien.
“Mental health affects everyone no matter what age we are, and youth and young athletes are no exception,” said Mattila. “It’s encouraging to see programs like Talk Today being implemented to help make a difference and show everyone that it’s OK to talk about mental health and mental illness.”
“We are excited to partner with the BC Hockey League, to help their athletes connect with the mental health supports and resources they need to thrive,” said Bev Gutray, CEO of CMHA BC in a statement.
The Talk Today program is one of the most comprehensive mental health programs for amateur sports in Canada. It consists of several components including mental health and suicide awareness workshops, one-to-one mental health coaches and Talk Today community awareness events at BCHL games.
Penticton Vees player Colton Poolman also likes that the league is doing this.
“I think it’s very important, especially with today’s games, how fast things are. How hard hits can be to the head,” he said. “I think it’s great that players have an outlet like that to go and express themselves.”
“The BC Hockey league strives to be the best Junior A hockey league in North America,” said BCHL commissioner John Grisdale. “For us, that means supporting the physical and mental health of our athletes, as well as reaching out to our communities and helping support causes we care about through initiatives like Talk Today.”
At the heart of Talk Today is the relationship between BCHL teams and CMHA branches. For each of the 17 teams, a local CMHA Mental Health Navigator will serve as a liaison and will help provide referrals to community mental health and addictions support. The navigator will also work closely with their local BCHL team to help promote mental health awareness within their local community.
“Each year, our network of 14 CMHA branches in B.C. help over 120,000 people including children and youth, families and older adults,” said Gutray. “Talk Today will help strengthen those community connections and reach new audiences with the message that mental health is possible for all.”
Talk Today builds on the success of an initiative launched in Ontario in 2014 as a partnership between CMHA Ontario and the Ontario Hockey League.
Find your local BCHL team and watch for more on Talk Today awareness events coming in early 2016 at www.bchl.ca. To learn more about Talk Today, visit www.cmha.bc.ca or join the conversation on social media using #talktoday.