August 15, 2014 8:58 am

Basketball tournament to spotlight pressures facing student athletes

HALIFAX – The family of a Dartmouth man who took his own life is hosting a basketball tournament this weekend to raise money for suicide prevention.

After Alex McLaughlin died on April 17, his brothers Mark and Peter, along with the rest of their family, rallied together to organize a memorial basketball tournament they hope will grow awareness about the pressurse facing student athletes.

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Mark and Peter say from the outside it looked like their brother Alex had everything going for him — he was about to graduate from Acadia University and had a girlfriend who loved him — but Alex was hiding a devastating depression from those closest to him.

“He kept it hidden pretty much entirely to himself, so we were all taken aback and shocked,” said Peter, Alex’s oldest brother.

“There’s a part of it that everyone wants to kind of blame themselves for not seeing anything coming, but that’s one of the things that we’re trying to focus on is that with depression it’s the kind of disease that you can hide.”

Alex was a star athlete who played for the Acadia Axemen basketball team in his first two-and-a-half years of university.

He wasn’t the only basketball player in his family — Mark and Peter along with his twin sister Julie and younger brother Conor all play the sport or are involved with it in other ways.

Their shared love of the game sparked the idea to hold the basketball tournament in their brother’s honour, with the goal of raising money for a local charity working in suicide prevention. They also hopes it can launch a more in-depth conversation about the pressures facing young athletes.

“Going through high-level sports all the way through my life I never heard anything about [mental health],” said Mark. He said the pressures athletes face are “tremendous, greater than what any other student or person would probably have to deal with.”

Alex McLaughlin played basketball for the Acadia Axemen for two and a half seasons. He committed suicide just before graduating from university in 2014.

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He said dealing with both sporting and academic expectations can be demanding.

“I think there should be some sort of addressing and resources available and some sort of mandatory counselling or mental health check up along the way.”

The family is hoping the money raised from this weekend’s tournament can help create mental health programs specifically targeted at student athletes.

The tournament kicks off 6 p.m. on Friday at the University of King’s College University gymnasium and runs through the weekend, with professional players from across the region taking part. Eight men’s teams and eight women’s teams will play, and the finals are slated for Sunday afternoon.

Entrance is free but guests are encouraged to make a donation to the family’s chosen charity, Communities Addressing Suicide Together (CAST). Funds raised through a silent auction and 50/50 draw will also go to CAST.

People who are not able to attend but still want to contribute can participate in the silent auction online.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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