When a local hockey coach approached Craig McKenzie with concerns about youth mental health last year, an idea was born.
“He was reaching out to get a sense of what the resources in the community were,” said McKenzie, director of operations with St. Clair Child & Youth.
“Because of what he was seeing behind the bench — talk of anxiety, depression and thoughts of harm.”
After meeting for coffee, the pair reached out to other hockey associations in Sarnia-Lambton to see if they shared their concerns.
“I was amazed by the response,” said McKenzie. “We had several executives from local hockey associations show up to the agency and just started talking about what the needs were and how we can support them.”
The resulting campaign, Face Off for Mental Health, took off immediately. Almost every local hockey organization has come on board — reaching some 3,000 youth in Sarnia-Lambton.
“We wanted to get the message out about what resources were in our community, as well as coping strategies for kids who are dealing with things from bullying to depression, anxiety and suicide — conversations we wanted to have with youth, staff and parents,” said McKenzie.
“It’s a no-brainer for us to engage with these associations because Sarnia-Lambton is a hockey community; kids and parents are at arenas every weekend.”
As part of the campaign, a series of educational sessions was launched in November to train bench staff on the signs and symptoms of mental health, how to have those conversations, and where to turn for help, McKenzie said.
“And we’ve already had really positive feedback about some conversations that have happened.”
The sessions will continue throughout the winter, reaching parents and players directly, while the agency hopes donations will help produce mental health education videos for all players next year.
Each registered player will receive a puck with information on St. Clair Child & Youth and Kids Help Phone.
Meanwhile, hockey organizations have been hosting designated awareness weekends, sporting green for mental health awareness, raising money and spreading the word.
“We taped our sticks green in support of mental health and the conversations started from our youngest to oldest players,” said Kaylen Burgess, a board member with the Mooretown Minor Hockey Association, pointing to more than $2,100 raised in one weekend, thanks to 50/50 and gate fee proceeds, and a dollar-for-dollar match donation from MTMHA.
Mooretown has 400 players registered, said Burgess, pointing to stats that show one in five children in Ontario will experience a mental health problem.
“That works out to potentially 80 of our players — these are our kids,” she said. “This number was alarming to us and the reason we wanted to do a little more.
“Outside of school, many of these kids spend more time at the arena than anywhere else,” Burgess added. “To me, that puts a big responsibility on our coaches.”
For more about the Face Off for Mental Health Campaign, or any of St. Clair Child & Youth services, visit www.stclairchild.ca
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Distress Line: 519-336-3000 or 1-888-DISTRESS