Fleury lends his voice to improving mental health in youth

FORT MACLEOD – Retired NHL star Theoren Fleury was in Fort Macleod Tuesday sharing his story in the fight against what he calls “the biggest epidemic in the world.”

A survivor of sexual abuse suffered as a teenager at the hands of his coach Graham James, Fleury’s healing took a big step forward after crossing paths with occupational therapist Kim Barthel at a conference in Winnipeg. The two forged a bond and after a long conversation Barthel helped Fleury reach a breakthrough.

“I realized there wasn’t one thing that I could have changed about my life that would have made it turn out any differently than what it did,” said Fleury.

He formed a partnership with Barthel and the pair now tour the country, talking about mental health. The session in Fort Macleod, featuring an audience of counsellors, educators and childcare workers, focused on mental health in youth.

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Barthel says when a parent has been through a traumatic experience – such as abuse – it can create a cycle where they aren’t providing a supportive environment for their own child.

“What we’re having a conversation about,” said Barthel “is how kids survive that experience and develop different behavioural strategies to cope.”

Barthel says it starts with creating safe and comfortable surroundings for children in need. Her belief is effective therapy is less about what is said, and more about building a relationship with the child.

A chord that struck closely with those in attendance.

“It’s groundbreaking,” said Jolaine Healy, a counsellor on the Blood Reserve. “They’re creating an environment for therapy to occur. Being comfortable with who you are and really about the spiritual connections that occur.”

That’s a feeling that hits close to home for Fleury, who feels his healing takes place when he feels safe.

“When I am spiritually connected is when I’m happiest in my life.”