On Jan. 26, during the women’s and men’s volleyball games against the Okanagan Heat, the Huskies donned blue toques to support the national Bell Let’s Talk initiative, joining 127 other campuses across Canada.
According to the Student- Athlete Mental Health Initiative, young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to live with mental illness than any other age group — and this is a growing problem in the student population.
In 2016, the American College Health Association reported that 18.4 per cent of the Canadian students who participated in their survey have been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety, alongside 14.7 per cent who have been diagnosed with or treated for depression — numbers that have risen from a respective 12 and 11.1 per cent since 2011.
SAMHI also reports that levels of mental distress are significantly higher for Canadian university-student athletes, when compared to others in their age cohort. Student athletes deal with the combined pressures of study, training and competition, as well as an environment where perceived weakness is often stigmatized.
Maddy Humbert, in her fifth year on the Huskies women’s basketball team and her first year in the College of Education, has experienced first-hand the stressful student-athlete environment.
“We feel a lot of pressure to compete, whether it be in our individual sports [or] the classrooms. So, I know that student athletes are very susceptible to mental-health [difficulties],” Humbert said. “And as athletes, we’re expected to be mentally tough, and sometimes, there’s a fine line between being mentally tough and being mentally well.”
To break down the stigma about mental illness in sports, and to change the environment that pressures athletes to be both mentally and physically tough, Huskie Athletics raised mental-health awareness during their volleyball games on Jan. 26 — joining Canada West for the second year in a partnership with Bell Let’s Talk, an initiative that seeks to create conversation about and raise funds for mental-health programs.
In anticipation of Bell Let’s Talk Day — which took place on Jan. 31 — Huskie athletes wore blue toques and fans were invited to sign a Bell Let’s Talk banner to take part in the discussion and pledge their support to the initiative, one Humbert believes is particularly valuable.
“I think it’s super important that we start a conversation surrounding mental health and that more people are actually aware and trying to end the stigma, especially student athletes,” Humbert said. She notes that athletes are quick to treat physical injuries but that an equal amount of attention should be given to mental distress.
“If someone were to sprain their ankle, we’d tell them to go see a doctor, but if someone’s feeling depressed or anxious, there shouldn’t be a stigma to seeing a doctor or seeking treatment,” Humbert said.
Humbert herself has worked to further the mental-health conversation, taking part in a Canada West Bell Let’s Talk video released this January. The video, featuring student athletes from across Canada, discusses five ways people can help fight the stigma around mental illness, including an encouragement to listen and ask how people are doing, a point Humbert reiterates.
“Just don’t be afraid to ask questions, like ‘How are you doing today?’ or ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’” Humbert said. “Some days, people just need someone to be there with them … and [to] know that they’re supported.”
Although Humbert believes Bell Let’s Talk Day is an important initiative, she is adamant that the event is just one piece of a larger discussion that must continue to grow.
“I think Bell Let’s Talk Day is an awesome opportunity for many people to tweet, call, text — whatever it is — in order to have the proceeds go towards mental-health initiatives,” Humbert said. “It’s important that … we’re having this conversation throughout the year to [make] sure … that everyone’s mental health is being taken care of.”
Jessica Klaassen-Wright / Editor-in-Chief
Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor