Grant Sheridan hopes a new mental health program adopted by the KIJHL moves hockey away from a past he regrets having been part of.
The Kelowna Chiefs general manager was at the league’s meeting Sunday in Castlegar to pitch the MindRight initiative, which will establish peer-to-peer support ambassadors in locker rooms, as well as connections to community services for players, on all 20 teams in the league.
Sheridan said he thinks the program is a long time coming.
“I’m a little bit old school and unfortunately I come from the suck-it-up era, which is wrong,” he said.
“But I’ve had, in the last six months alone, three kids come to me with what I’d deem pretty serious issues,” he said.
“A lot of these kids won’t go to certain places because of age differential or fear. If three kids are prepared to come to me, there’s a lot more out there.”
MindRight was created three years ago by Chiefs forward Myles Mattila, who doubles as a mental health advocate.
Mattila’s work came about after a teammate confided in him that he was suffering. Mattila told his coach, who responded by cutting the player from the roster.
“I don’t think [the coach] really understood how serious that circumstance was,” said Mattila. “My friend needed some help, he needed someone to talk to, he needed to seek out some supports.”
Mattila said the goal of the program will be to create a culture that encourages discussion in locker rooms. A MindRight phone app is also being planned, which will allow more reticent players to seek out services on their own.
“What we’re trying to do is start this conversation and allow these hockey players to have a free and a safe environment to talk about mental health.”
The program is similar to Breakout, an initiative started by then Nelson Leafs assistant coach Sean Dooley in 2016, albeit bigger in scope.
Dooley, who has spoken previously about his struggles with addiction, thinks the peer-to-peer model will be successful in the locker room.
“It’s a little bit easier to talk to a friend or a peer than it would be to talk to someone in a position of authority, especially someone you are trying to impress,” he said.
“The last thing you want is to lose your position on the team because they don’t think you have what it takes mentally, and nine times out of 10 that’s not the case.”
Sheridan said he thinks MindRight will be especially important in smaller municipalities where access to mental health services might be limited.
“Even if we have a kid in Beaver Valley who has the same problems as a kid in Vancouver, he’s got to be able to talk to somebody comfortably on his team, which would hopefully be staff or this ambassador,” said Sheridan.
“From there that ambassador can hook him up with Myles… If it’s serious enough to get him to Myles, and Myles can get him to a life coach, he doesn’t have to be in Beaver Valley. But we don’t want to exclude that kid.”