Psych out the Stigma

Today I’m sending a different sort of email – usually I provide you with some tip or trick or insight to elevate your mental toughness, today I’m asking for your assistance.

I want to introduce you to a movement that has been started by a community of elite athletes for athletes, with the goal to ‘Psych out the Stigma’ of Mental Health in Sport.

Just last week we learned of a 15 year old high school athlete who committed suicide. This past spring, a a female athlete was told by her doctors that she had to stop playing for fear of a heart attack brought on by her anorexia.  And that’s only 2 athletes of millions across Canada.

Student athletes are the 3rd most likely population to commit suicide and 20-30% of athletes are recorded to be dealing with mental health issues like eating disorders, obsessive compulsiveness, depression, financial concerns, and addictions.  Yet the message is loud in clear in sport: ‘Be Tough’ and ‘Suck It Up!’ – So we often suffer in the dark.  If nothing changes, if we don’t step in, many athletes will continue to suffer in silence, abuse their bodies, and take their lives.

Now’s the time for us to ‘Psych out the Stigma’ of Mental Health in Sport.

4 ways you can help:

  1. You can like our Facebook page.
  1. You can share this email and the corresponding blog with every athlete you know, so we can open up the discussion and get more people involved.
  1. You can send us an email with your story about how Mental Health has impacted your sporting career – whether that be personally, because of a teammate, or coach or family member.
  1. You can take part in any of our upcoming events (stay tuned as we release more events in the future)

My own story in a nutshell

In 2001 I had the awesome opportunity to train and compete with the Canadian Senior National Volleyball Team in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  The plan was that I would train for 9 months, take the Christmas holidays off, then return to my University of Ottawa Gee-Gees team for the second half of the season; but, that’s not what happened.

I’ll be honest, training was tough and I was really hard on myself.  I was homesick and couldn’t bring myself to get really close with any of the other athletes.  We had a busy training schedule: training 6 times per week, sometimes 3 times a day when you included our weight workouts.  By the end of the 9 months, my knees were shot and I was physically fatigued.

However, I didn’t want to let down my Gee-Gee team, and in fact I wanted to impress everyone when I returned to the team, so instead taking my Christmas month off, I trained even harder, lifted more, and push myself to my breaking point.

It all broke when I returned to Ottawa.  I couldn’t bend my knees past 25 degrees, and I was in great pain every time I played. Our team was in first place before I returned, and we didn’t make play-offs after I returned.  All of the pressure and burn out got to me, and I found myself crying after every practice.  But I didn’t tell anyone.  I kept it all to myself because there was no room in sport for me to share.  I am almost quit volleyball that year, but with rest I was able to come back.  I never want to be back in that dark place again, and I know it would have been so much easier had the stigma of mental health not been looming over my head.

I don’t want any athlete to ever have to deal with this – I want the Stigma to End!

Our Inaugural Event – SUP with the Stigma

paddlerWe are inviting all former and current National Team, Professional, Varsity, and all other athletes, and their supporters to join us in our inaugural event ‘SUP with the Stigma’ to be held during the Pan Am Games in the GTA.  At this event, we will combine a round-table discussion (about mental health: how it has affected our teammates and ourselves and what we can do about it) with a fun Stand Up Paddle Board Challenge on Lake Ontario (exact location TBD, most likely in the West Toronto beaches). The event will be fun and FREE … and probably competitive too, since we are all elite athletes!  You don’t have to have personally dealt with mental health issues yourself, we just ask that you be open to transforming the stigma along with us.

Our proposed dates for our first event are July 20, 23, 27, or 30th. . . Please reply to [email protected] by Wednesday July 1st with the date(s) that work best for you. We will then choose the date that’s best for the most athletes.

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