A tragedy in a small town north of London has launched a larger conversation about mental health, especially among athletes.
The Lucan Irish peewee rep hockey team, which consists of 11- and 12-year-old athletes, wanted to do something to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness after the death of local hockey player Nick Smith, who took his own life in October at the age of 20.
To some in the community, the conversation was long overdue.
“This is probably the first time Lucan is really talking about mental health, in particular men’s mental health, which often takes a back seat,” said Jana Bayer-Smith, who manages the Lucan Irish.
“Nick’s passing is something that has inspired these young boys and has given them some language around their own well-being and has started the conversations between young people and their parents.”
Through a green ribbon campaign and other fundraisers, the team has raised $7,600 for the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the Lucan Irish are looking to raise a total of $10,000 before the end of the season.
Their efforts caught the attention of Michael Landsberg, former host of TSN’s Off the Record and an advocate for mental health. He launched the Sick Not Weak initiative to open the conversation around mental health in an effort to eliminate the stigma associated with it.
Bayer-Smith says the team wanted Landsberg to bring that message to people in their community.
“We do need to reach out to each other and have those conversations openly so that there isn’t a stigma, so people don’t believe you are weak but that you are sick, and you need support like you would with any sort of illness,” Bayer-Smith said.
Landsberg has been very open about his own struggles with depression and anxiety. He’s coming to Lucan to speak with members of the community at 7 p.m. at the Lucan Community Centre.
Bayer-Smith says he will speak for an hour and then take questions.
“If we can talk openly about it then maybe we can decrease the suicide rate and not have to suffer another loss like we did this year.”
Smith was a graduate of the Lucan Minor Hockey Association and also played for the Lucan Irish junior hockey team, but his death has reached more people than those in the community that raised him.
Smith’s brother, Eric, is the captain of the major midget AAA Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs.
Last week, the Chiefs were named the winner of a contest to sell Babsocks — socks bearing the face of former Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock.
They sold 2,100 pairs of socks for $20 each, with $14 from each pair going to mental health initiatives. The team will now get a coaching session with Babcock himself.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
For mental health or addictions information, and details about how to get in touch with a mental health specialist, contact CMHA Middlesex. For those in immediate need of help, CMHA Middlesex’s crisis line is 519-433-2023 or 1-866-933-2023. Its support lines are 519-601-8055 and 1-844-360-8055.
Another resource available for athletes is the Canadian Sports Help Line, which was launched earlier this year as a national, toll-free hotline to offer assistance to victims or witnesses of harassment, abuse or discrimination in sports.
Young people in need can also contact Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.