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Young Saskatchewan athletes’ legacy could help others struggling with mental illnesses

Young Sask. athletes’ legacy could help others struggling with mental illnesses
WATCH: A GoFundMe page was set up in memory of Matthew Baraniuk, in hopes of providing funding for mental health research and support initiatives.

The family of a Saskatchewan athlete who lost his struggle with mental illness is hoping to honour his memory and create new supports to help others.

Matthew Baraniuk was a son, brother and a friend. His family describes him as affectionate, supportive and energetic.

Matthew’s older sister Shaina Baraniuk said they had a fun-loving relationship like many siblings have.

READ MORE: Call-in counselling offered free in Saskatchewan during COVID-19 pandemic

“We were always super competitive. I feel like we’d always be fighting for who was better at what. Anything I did, he wanted to try,” Shaina recalled.

Matthew’s competitive nature helped him succeed in athletics. He was once captain of a hockey team representing Canada in a tournament in Europe, but football was where he really excelled.

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The young athlete started playing football when he was in fifth grade and it instantly became his pride and joy. He played competitively and was on the Saskatchewan Huskies football team in his first year of post-secondary school.

READ MORE: Federal funding supports new online mental health resources for Canadians during pandemic

With all his success, Matthew also faced many struggles. He was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age.

Matthew’s mother Shari Baraniuk said some school years were more challenging than others, especially if teachers didn’t understand how his ADHD impacted him and his learning.

ADHD Awareness Month
ADHD Awareness Month

“It would be hard sometimes when he was going through a rough patch and he would say, ‘mom why am I so stupid?’ and he wasn’t,” Shari said.

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READ MORE: Men are less likely to seek help for mental health — and the pandemic is making it worse

Matthew was also diagnosed with anxiety and depression — something that was difficult to deal with as a competitive athlete.

Shari recalls a couple of instances where immense pressure was put on Matthew to be perfect, even through injury.

“That pressure he had to hold inside all of his suffering that he was going through and not show it to anybody and I think that just started compounding and compounding,” Shari said about her son.

The Baraniuk’s tried to find mental health supports for Matthew, but couldn’t find something that worked for him. The 20-year-old died by suicide on May 20.

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The Baraniuk’s don’t want others like Matthew to feel there isn’t support out there for them. They started a GoFundMe fundraiser in Matthew’s name, raising more than $20,000 in just one day.

The money will go towards advancing mental health research and to provide supports for other young athletes who struggle with mental illness.

“No one should have to watch their child struggle that hard,” Shari said.

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The family hopes to start a post-secondary scholarship and establish a mental health mentorship group for young athletes — something Shari said could have helped her son feel like he was understood.

A celebration of life will be held for Matthew on June 9.

Coronavirus: Canadian Mental Health Association’s largest fundraiser goes virtual
Coronavirus: Canadian Mental Health Association’s largest fundraiser goes virtual
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.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.