As a Canucks fan and a hockey fan, I have had both the joy and the heart break of understanding the importance of Mental Health Awareness. From the heart-breaking loss of Rick Rypien to the innovative creation of resources like Mindcheck.ca, my world has expanded to know that talking about the importance of mental health is a conversation that needs to happen every single day. It is my hope that one day there will be NO stigmas surrounding mental health and that no one will ever have to fear speaking up for someone else or themselves.
Recently I was introduced to the empowering story of aspiring hockey player, Myles Mattila and felt it is one that should be shared with all of my readers. If you are a Canucks fan, you may have heard his story as a part of the #HockeyTalks initiative…please keep reading to learn even more:
Here’s a few quick news clips to let you meet Myles:
Global News story on Myles: “New Program aims to address mental health issues among young hockey players”
“Keeping Mindcheck.ca in Mind” (via the Prince George Free Press)
I thought it would also be good to hear a little bit more about Myles and why raising awareness is incredibly important to him. For the last few years he has been working to open the conversation around mental health and help erase the stigmas that surround it. Myles is a son, a friend, a hockey player, a youth advocate and he is using his voice to speak up so that one day NO ONE will ever be afraid to ask for help. Here’s our interview of sorts to help you know him more, and hopefully understand why we need to open this conversation to our everyday vernacular.:
Sarah: If you wouldn’t mind, it would help for everyone reading this, if you could give a brief summary of your hockey story that has inspired your work in expanding the all important conversation on Mental Health awareness. Speaking up is not always easy, BUT you did it.
Myles Mattila: I wanted to raise awareness about mental health because of a difficult situation that I had encountered a few years ago. My teammate, who was always a happy hockey player, with a good attitude, suddenly changed. He wasn’t acting like himself and some things really began to worry me. He lost interest in the game that he used to love, his temper grew short, and his actions turned irrational. He started to make dark comments of feeling unhappy and unworthy. He was beginning to be very negative and started to isolate himself from other people. Nothing could cheer him up, not even friends or hockey. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me to leave him alone. At first, I thought he was having a bad day but when it continued, I noticed it was more than that. My teammate was in mental distress and needed help. I wanted to point him in the right direction but I didn’t know what to do, who he should talk to, or where he could go for support. Mental health wasn’t a common topic and I didn’t know much about it. I had never been in a situation like this before, I felt like I let him down because I didn’t know what I could do to help. I started getting involved in volunteering at the local mental health office and participating in youth programs to raise awareness of the stigma associated with mental illness. At times, it was challenging to spread the word and get people involved, but I set small goals so that I wouldn’t get discouraged. When I started promoting mental health, I faced some road blocks doing presentations and putting up posters. I was told that I wasn’t allowed to show a great mental health video even though it was appropriate and approved for the audience. I felt strongly about showing it because it’s captivating and gets the message across to youth. I was also told I couldn’t put mental health posters up in public places.However I continued to promote the cause and I approached other venues and people who would support me. The impact that I feel I have made raising awareness is that people feel more comfortable opening up and talking about the subject when they know that they are not alone. Many people have shared their stories and experiences about themselves, their friends or their family. Several of them have suffered in silence because of the stigma. Anyone can have mental health challenges in their lifetime and it can be very difficult. However it WILL get easier if you get help. Letting people know that you are there to listen, CAN make a big difference. If you want to raise awareness, you can start by talking to your peers about the subject.
S: You said one of your personal goals for this year is wanting people to talk about mental health, that is incredibly admirable. It is not an easy discussion but one that needs to happen more regularly. Why do you think so many people struggle to open the discussion?
MM: A charity organization that I am advocating for in Australia called: LIVIN, has a mantra and philosophy, “It ain’t weak to speak”, which gets promoted on their fashion line which gets sold globally. It is exactly that. Most people do not open the discussion because the fear of judgement, embarrassment and then the other side of the spectrum which is a lack of understanding, lack of empathy and misjudgement. For someone who struggles, it can be very difficult to speak up because of the negative stigma that is associated with mental illness that stops people from seeking professional help and getting better.
S: I love that motto: “it ain’t weak to speak”. It’s simple, yet perfectly captures a truth that needs to be spoken more often. What is one thing that you’d like for young kids and anyone who struggles with mental health issues to know?
MM: You are not alone. 1 in 5 people suffer from some kind so mental illness in their lifetime. Talk to your friends, family, teachers, sports coach, mentors, anybody. Once you open up the discussion, this can be the first step to getting the help you need to get back to LIVIN again. “It ain’t weak to speak.”
S: Wise words. Thank-you, Myles for sharing your story and continuing EVERY DAY to open and encourages the conversation about the importance of mental health awareness. And to those of you reading this, if YOU or someone you know suffers with mental health issues, please remember as Myles says: “it ain’t weak to speak”. You are NOT alone and when you are ready, help will be here.