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‘It’s okay not to be okay’: Calgary dad’s simple message aimed at tackling mental health stigma

WATCH: After living with anxiety and depression, a Calgary father has created T-shirts aimed at sparking conversations surrounding mental health. As Tracy Nagai reports, the idea has caught on with some well-known names in the sports world and beyond.

A Calgary father is hoping to break down barriers surrounding mental health with a simple message: “It’s okay not to be okay.”

“There’s a stereotype when it comes to dealing with mental health and I’m trying to eliminate that,” Danny LeGresley said. “There’s no age limit or race; mental health affects everybody.”

LeGresley said he began printing the phrase on shirts about five months ago after volunteering at the Mustard Seed and dealing with his own lifelong anxiety and depression.

“At the time, I was working out of town and was running ideas off a good friend of mine,” LeGresley said.

“I can’t just drop something. I’m always thinking and thinking.”

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The 40-year-old father said his struggles with anxiety and depression started at a young age but became prominent when he injured his knee five years ago.

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“I was playing tennis 15 hours a week, I was running 10 kilometres a day and was in such a positive state of mind and then I tear my ACL,” he said.

READ MORE: Calgary group seeks to normalize discussion around mental health, suicide

LeGresley said his injury coupled with the downturn in Alberta’s oil industry only added to his anxiety.

“You’re literally sitting around and a lot of negative thoughts creep into your head,” LeGresley said. “My brain doesn’t stop. I am constantly analyzing everything.”

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LeGresley’s shirts have picked up support from several current and former athletes including sports commentator Georges Laraque, Humboldt Broncos crash survivor Tyler Smith and professional boxer Adam Braidwood.

“I think just as a collective, as a community, as a people, it’s important for us to pick one another up,” Braidwood said. “If somebody wants to make some positive changes, I’m all for that.”

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Over the years, Braidwood has had to face many of his own personal challenges and the repercussions.

In 2013, the former Canadian Football League player was sentenced to four-and-a-half years behind bars after he pleaded guilty to sexual assault and careless storage of a firearm.

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Then two years ago, Braidwood made headlines following a fatal boxing match in Edmonton, which ultimately led to the death of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Tim Hauge.

READ MORE: Professional boxer who fought Tim Hague doesn’t think his death could have been avoided

“Anybody who’s lived in Alberta and followed my career or sports watched my very public struggle and they’ve also seen me turn it around,” Braidwood said.

“It would have been an easy moment, which everybody would have understood if I went off the rails and went back to drugs and alcohol.”

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Braidwood credits his success in managing his mental health to his friends and family.

“I have a lot of people who love me and care about me,” he said. “So anytime a friend calls me who is struggling, I make time for those people.”

Braidwood also believes LeGresley’s shirts will make a difference and has posted a picture of himself wearing one on social media to show his support.

Professional boxer Adam Braidwood wearing an “It’s okay not to be okay” T-shirt.
Professional boxer Adam Braidwood wearing an “It’s okay not to be okay” T-shirt. Obtained by Global News

“I think it’s a great slogan,” Braidwood said. “You see what’s really important when you step away from yourself and learn to talk about things that are maybe difficult to talk about.”

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READ MORE: Former Humboldt Bronco opens up about mental health: ‘It’s OK to not be OK’

So far, LeGresley said he’s sold about 200 shirts with a portion of the proceeds going to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“It’s a visual message that’s going to get people to talk. This is something that people are wearing proudly and it gets people to open up,” he said.

A fundraiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association is taking place at the Auburn Bay A&W at 100 Auburn Meadows Dr. S.E. on Nov. 21.

LeGresley will be selling the shirts there from 11 a.m. to 6 pm.