Photo: Twitter Chiefs fans stand to support off ice issues.

Kelowna Chiefs GM addresses mental health in junior hockey

The Chiefs partner up with local mental health program MindRight

The sporting world can offer its ups and downs.

NHLer Daniel Carcillo made that clear this week when he spoke out about his experiences in junior hockey with alleged hazing and the problems it ignited.

Over the past decade or so, the stigma surrounding mental health in the sporting world has been hacked away by calls for attention and more education. Hazing has been heavily monitored and banned by Hockey Canada. In Kelowna, it’s also being taken seriously.

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Kelowna Chiefs general manager, Grant Sheridan, has partnered his organization up with MindRight.info, an information and mental health support resource for youth hockey players founded by Kelowna local and Chiefs hockey player, Myles Mattila.

“Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have known what to do to help, but now we can. We’ve got to help (the players) so they can feel comfortable to reach out knowing there are resources to help them,” said Sheridan.

“As an organization, we want to eliminate the negative aspects of mental health and focus on the positives. (The positives) are that there are programs like MindRight, and people like Myles, that are (helping) young players.”

With that, the Chiefs and MindRight are pairing up to host four Mental Health Awareness games that will be held throughout the Chiefs’ hockey season, with the first being Saturday. The games will recognize incredible locals who make, or have made, a positive impact on mental health in their communities. Candace Giesbrecht will be the first to be awarded the Mental Health Community Star at the Dec. 1 Chiefs game. Giesbrecht spent six years with the Canadian Mental Health Association in Kelowna and helped Mattilia establish himself as a youth mental health advocate in the community.

Mattila, a former hockey player, founded MindRight after his experiences of watching a friend and teammate struggle with mental health.

“He wasn’t himself — he isolated himself and wasn’t being a team player, but he was always smiling. After I spoke to him about it, I thought it would be a good idea to tell our coach, but our coach didn’t know what to do help, so he kicked him off the team,” said Mattila. “I saw things happening in hockey and I wanted to help. MindRight can help players with reliable resources, and it creates platforms that help players no matter where they are, Kelowna to 100 Mile House.”

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For Sheridan, support for youth mental health will also help in the discussion with hazing, particularly now with the emergence of social media.

“Gone are the days that (hazing) is acceptable. Our organization, as well as the league, does not accept it, it’s banned. But with social media, it can be quite serious and hard to catch as its done more in private,” said Sheridan.

“It means there are issues that people don’t know about (affecting the young players) that do exist, and they need to be addressed. The goal is to get discussions happening (about mental health and potential hazing) before the serious things happen.”

Mattila and MindRight have added the Peer to Peer Support Program to help provide support and do even more for youth mental health. This initiative focuses on raising initial awareness, sourcing and co-ordinating an additional resource team, and helping youth access existing support associations within the community.

“The Peer to Peer program can be available for anything. Players can get quick answers on mental health, can have people accompany them if or when they seek any type of medical opinions, and it can hopefully give players confidence to talk about mental health and seek help if need be,” said Mattila.

Currently, MindRight uses hockey as one example and a common place where it has access to a large number of players as it continually tries to demonstrate that it is OK to ask for help. MindRight believe that, when dealing with mental health challenges, early intervention is crucial and can be accomplished with P2P, according to its website.

“We had two mental health games last year, and have four this year,” said Sheridan. “I feel the peer to peer program will be a good platform for players to simply have someone to talk to, no matter their age. It could be a good platform for a league with 23 teams.”

Currently, MindRight is supporting the Kelowna Chiefs but Sheridan said the entire league is looking to implement the programs that could not only help the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, but larger leagues as well.

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