Myles Mattila knows all about the silence that surrounds conversations about mental health.
Mattila, a 16-year-old hockey player for the major midget Okanagan Rockets and spokesperson for BC-based website Mindcheck.ca, recalled trying to broach the issue in his hometown of Quesnel.
“Nobody wanted to talk about mental health at all because they think if they tell one person the whole town’s gonna figure out what’s going on,” said Mattila.
Mattila is one of many who hope Breakout will change mental illness stigmas in Nelson. He joined Leafs assistant coach Sean Dooley, the founder of Breakout, at a press conference Saturday at Prestige Lakeside Resort to launch the player assistance program, which is the first of its kind in the KIJHL.
Dooley’s plan calls for community awareness events, workshops for players and coaches, ease of access for players to reach counselors as well as concussion education and visits from mental health speakers.
Treating mental illness in young athletes, Mattila said, begins with explaining what it is.
“If you teach them what mental health really is about they get on board after that,” said Mattila.
“By me explaining about what depression is, anxiety, to my teammates, first they have no clue, they learn about it, then, ‘wow, sometimes I feel like that,’ and they get on board and learn about it more and want to help other people out, maybe friends or family members.”
The emotional press conference followed Dooley’s own story of sexual abuse, depression and addictions published in the Star on Wednesday.
Tony Maida, Dooley’s boss at Selkirk Paving and Leafs secretary director, struggled to speak and had to compose himself several times as he told the story of how Dooley initially reached out to him for help.
“Just not too long ago Sean and I did talk about this whole road that we’ve been down together, and some of the texts and emails were not good. That’s just part of it. …,” he said. “I definitely see a new young guy who’s going to be great for his fiancee Courtney and [his son] Boone and for our company.”
Several members of Nelson’s mental health community attended the event.
Jaime Jenkins, who works with Freedom Quest Regional Youth Services and is joining Breakout, said people are often unaware of the services available.
“I think that there is an idea that the absence of illness is wellness. It’s not necessarily true. Just because you don’t have a mental illness doesn’t mean that you’re flourishing,” she said. “I think that sometimes the desire to access services may not come as easily. And again, there’s a lot of stigma. Especially with youth, they don’t want their friends to know, they don’t want their parents to know, and so that’s why it’s nice to offer some confidential services for them.”
Dooley said local counselor Sandy Maclean will work with Breakout as a contact person as well as a workshop leader. Trevin Sewell, an assistant coach with the Pacific Junior Hockey League’s Aldergrove Kodiaks, will represent the program in his league, and Dooley added he’s in talks with other KIJHL teams about adopting Breakout.
Defenceman Dash Thompson was one of several Leafs to show up for the press conference. He said Dooley’s story made an impact on the team. “It takes a lot of courage to do something like that. I think we respect him a lot more for that,” said Thompson.
Det.-Cst. David Laing meanwhile read a statement from Deputy Chief Paul Burkart, which said one in six calls to the Nelson Police Department are now related to mental illness.
Laing, who received a Lieutenant Governor’s Award last year for his rescue of a suicidal woman on Nelson’s bridge in 2013, added police are still working to resolve how best to help people suffering from mental illness.
“We get it at the end of the day where they’re on a bridge or they’re holding a gun or they’re feeling their life is over. How do you walk into that and make that fixed? You don’t. You walk in and it’s a band-aid solution,” said Laing. “But that’s why this thing is such a huge issue because it’s community based.
“It’s got to be everybody.”