When the Canucks re-structured their organization this summer, they didn’t just look at the players they would be putting on the ice this season. They instituted sweeping changes, from the front office staff who would oversee the rebuilding process, to the concession stands and what they would serve to the fans.
But there is one aspect of the Canucks organization that won’t be getting overhauled. They continue to set the bar in community service and have now become pioneers in a new initiative that began in the spring of 2010.
The Canucks have developed an very highly regarded weapon in the fight against mental illness in the form of a website called MindCheck.ca, as well as an initiative called NHL’s Hockey Talks.
These were inspired from the passing of Rick Rypien, a Canuck fan favourite and universally well liked teammate who lost his battle with mental illness.
The primary force behind these creations was Canucks Vice-President of Communication TC Carling, who along with Kevin Bieksa, were a couple of the people Rypien confided in. The sole purpose is to help people combat mental illness and recognize signs and symptoms, whether it’s within themselves or a loved one.
And it’s the recognition and education that’s often overlooked. There is still a dramatic lack of understanding out there about mental health, and in this day and age there really isn’t an excuse for it. We as members of the general public could help those affected take massive strides, if we only took a few moments to explore mental health issues a little at a time and gain some comprehension of what they are, and just as importantly, what they aren’t.
The Reality Of Depression
Depression has come to the forefront in the public eye over the last couple years with what seems like an alarming regularity. But the reality is that it’s been around a long time and has largely been unrecognized, or misunderstood entirely.
It is not merely feeling blue, or being sad. You and I can become depressed after our team loses an important game, but that is far from suffering from depression.
Depression is defined as a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, feelings and sense of well-being. Depressed people can feel a wide range of emotions from sad, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, or restless. They may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, experience loss of appetite or overeating, or have problems concentrating or making decisions.
They may contemplate, attempt or commit suicide. Insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, aches, pains, digestive problems or reduced energy may also be present.
An array of causes can lead to the condition, including biological, psychological and environmental, or a combination thereof.
You can see how it’s far beyond being sad or upset, it is severe despair over a prolonged period of time. It’s like a heavy blanket over the brain that it just can’t get out from under and can have an extreme impact on a person’s physical health.
That’s a fair amount of info and certainly provides a basic understanding of this ailment, and took no time at all to look up.
The most upsetting result of the rampant lack of understanding is that people affected are often criticized about the choices they make as a result of the damage the disease has done to their brain, as when Henry Rollins criticized Robin Williams after his suicide.
This type of criticism comes from the grossly uneducated who think they are an authority on something they know nothing about, and not only is it irresponsible but it can be dangerous.
As we can see, choice has long been removed from the equation in people suffering severe depression, to the point where suicide is the only decision that makes any sense to them.
Rypien’s passing was an indescribable loss to his family and friends, and there was no way Carling and Bieksa were going to sit by and watch others struggle with ailments like their friend fought without doing something to try and help.
Carling knew that Rick felt better after he talked things out with people, so he relied on those conversations with Rick, as well as input from Bieksa and others, to create a forum for people to get help and communicate.
Communication lets people know they are not alone, and is a vital step towards finding a solution. Approximately 70% of mental health problems begin in childhood or adolescence, so early recognition and access to tools are extremely important.
Mindcheck.ca allows people to discuss their problems with a larger group of people, which is exactly what Rypien wanted to do.
There is access on the site to assistance on several topics affecting so many today, from alcohol and drugs, anxiety and mood disorders, to stress issues and body image concerns.
At the same time, it provides a conduit to information to allow people to educate themselves with language and terminology that is easy to decipher.
One of the key features on the site is a self-assessment test that people can take to help identify signs and symptoms in themselves or someone close to them. It would be hard to overstate the benefit this item alone.
People often don’t seek assistance for mental illness from a Doctor because of a feeling of embarrassment, or a fear of the stigma that mental illness has created. This test alleviates those concerns and lets people take a crucial step without anyone else present.
Such a site has benefits that stretch on forever. The need is undeniable, as over 50,000 visitors have taken the self-assessment alone, helping untold amounts of people. 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, suggesting that the movement the Canucks are leading has come along at a critical time, as these kinds of numbers aren’t going to decrease by themselves.
NHL’s Hockey Talks
This program is designed to generate a conversation on mental health on a much broader scale. Currently all the Canadian NHL teams participate, and it is the hope and intention to get all of the teams involved in the near future.
The participating clubs dedicate one night a year in January to raising awareness and identifying resources for those in need.
Uniquely, the clubs use in-game videos to spread messages about the program and in-game messaging to relay information about mental illness and associated challenges.
When the Canucks host their day, they also have a group from MindCheck.ca on hand in the Sedin Corner at Rogers Arena to talk to anyone about anything related to the programs or answer general questions anyone might have about mental health.
Rypien would be proud of the efforts his team and his friends have put forth in the creation of such an enterprise, and the Canucks organization have done a tremendous job in trying to shed light into a dark tunnel for people to follow.
They understand the magnitude of the situation and have gone to great lengths to create awareness, promote education and provide assistance. It extends beyond sports, and will benefit the public long after Stanley Cups have been won or lost.
Rypien’s passing was the catalyst for delivering a clear message. We have to do a better job of trying to understand the things that are mysterious to us, and at the same time replace the reflex action of criticism with empathy and a true understanding.
It’s a responsibility that we have to accept, even embrace, and if we do the souls of the many who have lost their struggle will smile upon us from above.
Darrin Hayes is a regular contributor for the Vancouver Canucks on TheHockeyWriters.com. Follow Darrin on Twitter @HayesTHW or on Facebook via TheHockeyWriters fan page.