February is right around the corner and the OHL and CMHA Ontario are excited to kick-off Talk Today Month across the League. Their long-standing partnership recognizes the importance of supporting the mental health of players with suicide-prevention and mental health awareness resources available to each member team through the Talk Today program.
According to Camille Quenneville, CEO of CMHA Ontario, Talk Today has reached more than 30,000 social media users on Facebook and achieved more than 62 million impressions on Twitter using the #TalkToday hashtag since the program was launched back in October 2014.
It’s a success she credits to the OHL clubs and athletes’ willingness to go above and beyond to raise awareness, working to bring messages of positive mental health to both fans at the games as well as those at home.
“It’s the athletes who go the extra mile to spread awareness about the importance of speaking about mental health. For example, with the support of Teachers Life, players and our CMHA branch experts have visited dozens of schools across the province to speak to students about the benefits of maintaining positive mental health.
Almost 1,200 players, over 100 coaches, and about 370 billets and parents have taken the safeTALK suicide prevention workshop that helps teach the importance of talking about mental health, how to recognize signs of suicide, and how to seek help or connect with others in need of support resources.
“Every year, we hear from players, coaches, parents and other adults about the impact of the training,” said Camille Quenneville, CEO, CMHA Ontario.
“For example, we’ve heard from players who’ve supported a teammate or classmate when they noticed something was wrong. Or, we’ve heard from a billet individual who used the CMHA training to identify a work colleague who was in crisis and get that person help. Another example is that we’ve heard from a psychiatrist who works with elite athletes who told us that the Talk Today workshop helped to save the life of one of his clients.”
The Talk Today program aims at acknowledging how challenging the world of elite sports can be, especially for young athletes in a new, competitive environment.
Peterborough Petes goaltender Hunter Jones spoke to the challenges that can often come with being a young athlete.
“It’s a difficult lifestyle that we go through, especially when you’re coming to the league at 16 years old,” said Jones.
“There are going to be differences in your life. You’re going to a different high school, you have to make some sacrifices, and sometimes it can be difficult on your body and your mind, so it’s always important we have those resources and someone to reach out to.”
A 19-year-old in his third season, Jones says he’s made himself available as someone the younger players, or anyone on the team, can speak to at any time.
“As an older guy on the team, if the young guys or anyone on the team needs help, or I see that someone might be going through a tough time, I’m there to help,” he said.
“If someone needs someone to redirect them to some help, or maybe if they need myself to drive them to go see one of our resources, I have no problem doing that.”
Having a supportive network of peers and friends is a helpful resource for those who may be struggling, and it’s crucial that athletes know they have the acceptance of those peers.
According to Jones, the availability of resources continues to grow and continues to make an impact on the players in helping them understand there is always going to be help available.
Again, as one of the league’s older players, he considers himself one of those positive peers.
“The more we can get people to speak openly about mental health or addictions issues, the more we can normalize the conversation on these subjects,” said Quenneville.
“In many cases, these young athletes are viewed as leaders in their communities and role models for youngsters. If these athletes are willing to share their thoughts and feelings about their own mental health, then imagine the impression that leaves on a child that looks up to them.”
February is CMHA Talk Today Month across the OHL as the League, in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association and Teachers Life, will be teaming up to raise awareness about the importance of mental health at upcoming games throughout the month.