FERGUS – The second Here4Hope mental health discussion at the sportsplex here on Dec. 3 featured keynote speaker Cheryl Pounder.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and TSN hockey analyst spoke candidly about struggles with self-doubt and mental health despite her successes.
“My journey in hockey … I know it’s seen as fabulous, but it is nothing compared to life,” Pounder told the crowd.
“I certainly can’t imagine having been through some of the things that people in this room have been through. What I can say is I’ve been there through friendships that ended in suicide and it is time to recognize that there needs to be a conversation.”
At age 17 Pounder was invited to take part in the final selection camp for the national women’s hockey team. At the time she said she was filled with self-doubt and fear.
It took a seasoned teammate taking Pounder under her wing to give Pounder confidence.
“Often it’s one action or one impact that can make a massive difference in someone’s life,” said Pounder.
However, fear and self-doubt has been a life-long struggle for her.
Training for the 2006 Winter Olympics, Pounder and other members of the team faced fear, anxiety and depression, which she said she overcame thanks to support from teammates.
“The expectation when we’re in sport, especially at a high level, is you act as if you’re fine,” she said.
“You push your body to the limit, you push your mind to the limit, and you act as if you’re fine. Well, it doesn’t work. There were multiple girls on that team that were being affected by depression, anxiety.”
Pounder’s largest struggle was being cut from the national team in 1997.
“There’s fear I’m still not gonna be good enough. And my body language goes down. And I couldn’t get back up because I was afraid. So damn afraid,” she said.
“The pain of fear right? It’s what prevents us from moving forward. So we have to somehow embrace that pain. Embrace it. So we can take a step.”
Pounder said finding the right person to confide in and finding something “that makes us smile,” helped her through.
The message of the event was the role of the community in preventing suicide.
Following the first Here4Hope discussion in 2018, a three-year partnership was formed – between the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Waterloo Wellington, Wellington County and the county OPP – to establish the Here4Hope: Working Together to Prevent Suicide initiative.
“And everyone has a role to play in preventing suicide. And the goal of the project is really to engage as many individuals and organizations as possible in this work,” said Cecilia Marie Roberts suicide prevention lead for CMHA and Wellington County.
Nine months ago Roberts started building a framework to address required resources to prevent suicide.
“The framework is really just the roadmap that we can follow over the next couple of years that will guide and focus us in the work that we’re going to do together,” she said.
The event coincided with the launch of the Here4Hope website on Dec. 2.
The new site charts completed work as well as a list of resources and goals still to be achieved.
Roberts noted that over the last decade, of the Wellington County residents lost to suicide, “about 50% of them were not connected with formal services.”
Getting more people connected to the kinds of services they need starts by helping others to understand the signs exhibited by someone who needs help.
“How to intentionally notice when people are struggling, and to open the conversation around suicide and connect to support is going to be a big piece of this work,” said Roberts.
Mental Health Commission of Canada
The Here4Hope initiative was recently invited to develop a partnership with the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
According to Roberts eight communities across the country have been invited to take part in a national demonstration project.
“What they’re trying to do is they’re trying to look at communities that are using this whole community approach and seeing in Canada, is it working and how are we doing,” said Roberts.
Participation in the demonstration, she said, will supplement the evidence-based research already collected by Here4Hope.
Stepping into the lead role, Roberts began by talking to suicide survivors and families affected by suicide.
Guests Patrick Wick, John Pitchford and Michelle Peek spoke at the event about their struggles with suicide.
Wick and Pitchford both spoke about stigma surrounding suicide survivors.
“My father was aware of my struggles with depression and addiction,” Pitchford said. “He realized he was important to me, as a parent, to be there for me. My relationship with my father is a strong connection for me. And he is someone to reach out to in some type of crisis. He is not going to be negative or judgmental.”
Wick said his family does not discuss his suicide attempt or past suicidal behavior.
“This denial is but a small step away from stigma and judgement. So I can say to be judged harshly or with disdain, any suicide attempt survivor like me, will experience a profound loss of self-worth,” said Wick.
Peek, a photographer and founder of Art Not Shame, spoke about losing her brother to suicide as a teenager.
“I learned that he had confided in my mom and told her that the pressure to be perfect was too much,” said Peek, which led her to launch her Guelph-based, not-for-profit, community-engagement arts organization.
“I think it’s so important that we stand on top of our stories, as our panelists have done. For Patrick, John, Michelle, it’s a real life experience,” said Pounder.
“But when you find the courage to stand on top of your story, and be okay with it, it’s amazing what comes out of you, and the impact and the difference that we do make,” said Pounder.
“As a community, we’re here to engage, to make a difference.”
For more information about Here4Hope visit https://here4hope.ca.