The Canadian Mental Health Association and British Columbia Hockey League have teamed up to combat mental illness.
The two organizations launched the partnership, titled ‘Talk Today,’ in November. Talk Today is based off a model that was used in a partnership between the CMHA and Ontario Hockey League last year, and it has four main agreements.
The first agreement is that if teams are concerned about the mental health of a player, CMHA guarantees to talk to them just like they would for anyone else. Secondly, teams will provide CMHA with the opportunity to liase with players with the goal of every team eventually having its own mental health ambassador. The agreement will also provide a game event for CMHA and mental health where they can talk about mental health at the arena on game day, fundraise for mental health, and other activities. The final agreement is the one Director of Community Engagement and Fundraising for CMHA Kelowna Candace Giesbrecht is most excited about.
“The fourth part is training, and the training happens in two parts,” Giesbrecht explained. “One with the players, and one with the families and billet families. We’ll just talk to them about the signs and symptoms of mental illness, and when they should be worried. What’s the difference between the normal ups and downs of life and being a teenager, and when is it something to be worried about? And then how do you have a conversation and open that up. It doesn’t train people to be councillors, but just to be able to recognize and understand that sometimes something as simple as a conversation can open the door to people getting the help they need.”
Myles Mattila is a forward for the Okanagan Rockets of the British Columbia Major Midget League and has been an advocate for mental health awareness in sports, particularly hockey, for several years. Mattila believes this new partnership will be fantastic for everyone involved, especially the players.
“I think it’s great for hockey players because there is a lot of stress for players, coaches and parents,” he described. “Getting traded from BC to Quebec, for example, and the other person has to come from Quebec to the BCHL can be difficult. I think it’s great when someone from across Canada gets to come to the BCHL and can rely on something like Talk Today, because it can be difficult for players to get used to new teams and new billet families. I think it’s great to have something like Talk Today.”
Mattila noted it also gives players the opportunity to open up about mental illness and to learn to recognize the signs in teammates that they may be struggling with it. Although Talk Today was just recently launched, CMHA Kelowna has already met with the coach and chaplain for their local BCHL team, the West Kelowna Warriors to begin working on the four aspects of the agreement.
In addition to Talk Today, CMHA is also asking people to take a pledge for mental health.
“We’re taking it city wide, and the pledge is very simple,” Giesbrecht said. “We’re asking people to get loud with their voices, get loud with their time, get loud with their resources and to break the silence that’s associated with mental illness. Our goal in the coming year is that every citizen in our community has at least one opportunity to sign the pledge. By taking the pledge you’re saying, ‘If I’m struggling I’ll talk to somebody for help, if I see somebody struggling I’ll reach out to them and I’ll promise to get loud.'”
Giesbrecht added their goal is to have 13,000 people sign the pledge, which would be approximately half the number of people in Kelowna that will experience mental illness this year.