On Feb. 28th, 2017 Talk Today, a program aimed at improving the mental health of young athletes, made its first appearance at the Regina Pats home game against the Lethbridge Hurricane.
“We work with the teams and provided them with some information on suicide prevention and awareness. We provided them with a mental health coach, so if they’re having troubles they’ve got someone they can call,” explained Stacey Carmichael, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Regina Branch.
A component of the program is training in safeTALK, which educates people to recognize suicidal characteristics and how to take action to prevent suicides. The program is mandatory for all WHL players and is also open to parents, coaches and team staff.
It has been six years since former Pats player Rick Rypien was found dead in his Alberta home. “Rick having played for us, this takes on extra importance for us to be a part of these types of things,” said Mark Rathwell, vice president of communications for the Regina Pats.
Throughout the game, there were public announcements and videos featuring Pats players speaking about the importance of mental health. “1 in 5 Canadians are affected by mental illness, the Canadian Mental Health Association is there for you; you are not alone,” said goaltender Tyler Brown in his video clip.
“Just remember your mental health is just as important as your physical health,” said team captain Adam Brooks in his clip.
The CMHA also set up an information table and a video booth for fans to record messages for social media.
The partnership between the WHL and CMHA was launched in the spring of 2016, with an agreement that each WHL team would host a Talk Today event at one home game. The Feb. 28 game was “an extension of that and getting awareness about mental health and the importance of talking about it, as the first step in treatment,” said Rathwell.
A Chuck-a-Puck was held in support of the CMHA Regina Branch with all proceeds going to them. It involves fans who purchased a puck the chance to win a signed hockey stick by the Pats. Fans chuck a puck at the center ice and whoever hits the target wins.
Craig Heichert, a 12-year season ticket holder, purchased six pucks
“My dad suffers from mental illness and so for me, this is a big cause, it’s a good cause to spend money towards,” said Heichert.
Most WHL players live with host families and are away from their hometowns, family and friends for the better half of the year, noted Carmichael. They are also under a tremendous amount of pressure to be better and play better in order to have the chance at making the NHL.
They are a “high-stress group of kids,” said Carmichael.
The Pats currently have six drafted players on the team. The night of the event, they suffered their second loss in a row.
Carmichael said that when watching WHL games, “lots of us forget 15-16-year-old boys that skate like men (may be) experiencing a lot of the same stuff that lots of adolescence are experiencing with mental health.”
“We would like to reach out to all sports teams in Regina and Saskatchewan,” said Carmichael.