Last week former NHL hockey player Sheldon Kennedy came to St. Albert to encourage school children to speak up when they are hurting or being hurt. He also challenged adults to watch for the signs when children are not able to speak with words.
“Kids tell in different ways,” he told an Arden Theatre audience.
Failing grades, getting in trouble with the law and self-harming behaviour are just some of the indicators. Kennedy knows the drill. He shared the living hell he experienced as a teenager at the hands of a junior hockey coach who sexually abused him for five years.
As a kid, Kennedy was not able to speak up in words, but his behaviour spoke volumes. He cut himself; he dropped out of school; and he suffered addictions, depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety. He documented his living hell in his book: Why I didn’t say anything: The Sheldon Kennedy Story. Now more than 20 years later he is trying to make a difference in the lives of others by preventing and identifying abuse; and helping young people to get treatment.
He told parents and teachers and coaches not to be afraid to ask children what is going on when children and teens start to act out. He told children and adults to stand up for one and other. Kennedy urged people to focus on the impact.
Many children are not getting the help they need.
The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that between 10 and 20 per cent of young people suffer mental health problems. Yet only one in five of the children who need mental health treatment have access. Canada has the third highest youth suicide rate in the industrialized world.
A St. Albert survey of young people revealed that 70 per cent of respondents noted issues with mental health.
St. Albert agencies are trying to address the need with awareness and fund-raising initiatives. Last fall Olympian Clara Hughes shared her mental health journey at the St. Albert Readers Festival, in which proceeds went to support mental health initiatives in our city.
The St. Albert Community Foundation is doing its part. In 2015 the foundation set up an endowment fund, Youth Mental Health Fund, to devote donations to the needed cause.
Just this year the foundation granted $6,500 to Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF) which is devoting the money primarily to its youth counselling program. This is just the latest grant from the foundation. Unfortunately, the demand for more money and resources keeps growing.
It’s important to do whatever we can to reduce the stigma around the issue. Promoting mental health initiatives is an investment in people and it’s something from which all of society can benefit. Mental health awareness has improved a lot over the years, but there is still room for improvement. As Kennedy pointed out, the problem is much more common than we realize. We must keep the conversation going.