When most of us think of February 8, we don’t really think of anything special unless it’s a birthday or an anniversary. If some of you are really interested in the significance of certain days, you’ll know that February 8 is Kite-Flying Day. Honestly, how many of you can say that you knew that. If it wasn’t for Mike Wilbon of ESPN’s ‘Pardon the Interruption’, I certainly wouldn’t have known that. Across Canada, though, since last year, February 8 has its own significance.


North of the border, February 8 is Let’s Talk Day sponsored by Bell in partnership with Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. This evening on CTV, Michael Lansberg, host of TSN’s ‘Off the Record’, hosted a new documentary, ‘Darkness in Hope: Depression, Sports and Me’. During the hour, three athletes spoke of their own battles with depression: six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes, former NHLer Stephane Richer and ex-Major Leaguer and former Los Angeles Dodger Darryl Strawberry.


Essentially, the point of Let’s Talk Day is to eliminate the stigma of mental illness. This is an issue that touches the National Hockey League on a personal level as last summer they tragically lost three of their players: Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak. Although Boogaard’s cause of death isn’t known to be either a suicide or accidental, the latter two did commit suicide and thus, succumbing to an issue that is still so misunderstood as, despite 1 in 5 Canadians suffering from mental illness, many of those who have a mental illness are too afraid to talk about it and it’s mainly because they’re too afraid of how people will look at them, especially friends and family. This is something that has to change and with Bell’s ‘Let’s Talk’ campaign, an attempt to steer this in the right direction is well under way.


At the NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa a couple weeks ago, Daniel and Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks were shown wearing special shirts: one with “37 Ryp” on them, honouring their former teammate, the aforementioned Rick Rypien, and the second with “mindcheck.ca” on it, displaying a website where family and friends of people with depression can go to and make their voice heard. Canucks’ defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who was a close friend of Rypien’s, spoke today on ‘Off the Record’ and admitted that there’s still a long way to get rid of the stigma that comes with mental illness. Many see mental illness as something dangerous or, to take a page out of the modern-day vernacular, “creepy”. This is not the case and there is still a lot of work to be done.


Mental illness, whether it’s depression, social anxiety or whatever, is something that needs to be taken more seriously. A lot of progress has been made but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.


If you or someone you know suffers from mental illness, please don’t shy away. Talk to them and if you can’t help them, send them to someone you can because for those who seek help, can easily find help.


Mental illness is not a weakness or is it self-inflicted. Please do not stand by and pretend nothing’s wrong. Do whatever you can to help whether it’s yourself, a sibling, a parent, a child, a friend, anyone. This issue will not go away by itself.


Although it’s on the advice on the Sedin twins and Kevin Bieksa, I urge you to put your ego aside and log on to www.mindcheck.ca and see what you can do to help to end the stigma of mental illness. If you or someone you know is in danger, urge them to visit their local emergency room or dial the local operator and get in touch with their local crisis hotline. If you have to carry them to emergency on your back, then do that. I don’t care if he or she is 250 pounds. What would you rather, a strained back or a chance to save someone’s life?


So, although February 8 is especially reserved for a day of mental awareness in Canada, that doesn’t mean that we should turn a blind eye for the other 364 days. This certainly isn’t an easy thing to talk about but whoever said that everything in this life worth having comes easy? No one – because it’s simply not true.


Now, let us take Bell’s advice: let’s talk.