Let’s talk (again and again and again)


If you’ve checked out Hockey Twitter on Wednesday, you’ve probably seen some stuff about Bell Let’s Talk. It’s an initiative by the Canadian telecommunications giant to discuss mental illness and support those suffering from it. As I wrote a year ago, it’s an important day to me as a hockey fan and a person.

During this day, Bell donates five cents to mental health programs in Canada for all sorts of phone calls, text messages, and social media posts including the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. Branding ploy aside, it’s an incredible thing to see the public reaction, and something we should all participate in.

So let’s keep talking. You can read my piece from last year first if you’d like, but I’d be remiss not to point out the impact mental illness has had on the Chicago Blackhawks community. Clint Reif and Steve Montador are just two of the people we’ve lost due to mental illness, and as we know with this stuff, there are surely countless others hiding their struggles.

Hockey, as you might’ve heard, is about toughness. It’s about strength and will power and grit. The game is about skill and panache, too, but even the most talented players are tough. That’s basically a requirement to get through the door.

But sometimes the hockey world forgets another kind of toughness. The toughness to stand up and say, “I think there’s something different about me.” The toughness to reach out for help and let others know your pain.

There’s toughness in self-help, too.

That’s probably why I smiled reading this article on the Leafs’ website this morning. Here’s Mike Babcock, one of the most respected people in hockey, pointing out that, “Mental illness affects one in every five Canadians, so if you think about that, that means four (players) in my dressing room alone, must be affected in some way."

It’s not long ago that the hockey world brushed this stuff aside, that mental struggles were seen as weakness. As Tyler Bozak said, there’s progress being made in moving away from that.

"I just think it's grown," Bozak said. "It wasn't much talked about when I first came in. It was just kind of one of those things you just kind of slid under the rug, and let someone deal with it on their own. But if anyone ever has a problem, I think it's more open now. People aren't afraid to talk to someone or get advice or get help. And I think it's only going to get better, too."

And I think it's only going to get better, too.

Everything Bozak said is great, but that’s the line to focus on. Let’s keep getting better at this.

And for you, the reader at home, you do that by listening. You do that by reaching out and saying, “Hey what’s good?” Sometimes people want to discuss their problems, and sometimes they just want reminders that, as different as they might be, they can still have friends and family and community. These are things that basically anyone can help with.

Not to get off topic too much here (AND SPOILER WARNING, DON’T YELL AT ME), but I recently saw Split, the new M. Night Shyamalan film. It definitely does not handle mental illness in the most responsible way given its villain is a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder, which is a real disease that real people deal with.

But there’s a consistent theme throughout the film that people who face adversity are the truly powerful ones. That those who have suffered, and have been exposed to horrible experiences, are full of strength. The people who easily go through life, without any real challenges, are the ones we should feel bad for.

It’s kind of a hokey idea, and the film definitely doesn’t handle everything perfectly, but I’m not gonna lie. It resonated with me. Here was a film (even if it’s in many ways a silly horror-thriller) that made $40 million in its opening weekend, and one its core messages was the strength resulting from adversity.

What makes you different is what makes you special.

Surely not everyone feels that way in the midst of their struggles, but that’s a message worth broadcasting to the world. And especially the hockey world, where uniformity is valued and the team is always put over the individual. Sometimes, the reality is that you need to care for yourself before you can care about anything else. (Also, it turns out M. Night can still make a pretty sweet movie)

So like last year, let’s keep talking. Open up about the things that make you happy, and sad, and angry, and scared. Let the right people get involved in your life, and embrace them with everything you’ve got. Find outlets to express yourself. Never assume that nobody wants to listen.

Today is Let’s Talk Day. Don’t forget there are 364 other days that you can open up, too.