You wouldn’t think that hockey and mental health go together, but with lots of time spent on the road and away from family, those in the sport don’t have it easy. Myles Mattila, 16-year-old Okanagan Rockets right wing and mental health advocate, challenges those preconceptions.
Signs of mental health issues aren’t always apparent— something Mattila can attest to. After noticing a change in his teammate’s mood during the hockey season, a bit of probing revealed that his friend was struggling with depression. Wanting to be there for him, Mattila wishes he had known about mindcheck.ca at the time, a website that provides tools to cope with mental health issues.
“When my friend told me that he was suffering from depression, it was very hard for him, but it was also hard for me because I didn’t have the resources and the know-how to help him get the help he needed,” says Mattila. “Had I given him mindcheck.ca [to look at] at the time, he could have really understood what he was going through.”
Making the decision to tell his teammate’s parents about their son’s struggle coupled with the passing of Vancouver Canucks player Rick Rypien, a mental health advocate, a few weeks later only served to solidify Mattila’s decision to get involved with mental health advocacy.
Seeing former Vancouver Canucks player Kevin Bieska carry on Rypien’s legacy in promoting mental health through mindcheck. ca further inspired Mattila to get involved. After teaming up with mindcheck.ca in 2013, and, more recently, with Talk Today, a mental health education program in partner with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) which joined with the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) to promote mental wellness among players in October 2015, Mattila has plenty of work ahead of him.
Between speaking on behalf of mindcheck.ca in school presentations and giving a player’s perspective on behalf of Talk Today, juggling school, family, and sports can be a balancing act, something which Mattila says he couldn’t be doing without the support of his family and help from “dad-ager” Don Mattila.
“I don’t think I’d have such great success being a mental health advocate without my parents,” says Mattila. “I can’t thank them enough.”
The outreach in the four months since the launch of Talk Today has been tremendous, says Mattila, with a variety of hockey leagues wanting to get involved and create a plan to broaden the scope of mental health education.
A close-knit community, comraderie in the hockey world is strong between teammates, coaches, and the billet families that host hockey players. Though every league is different in their travel schedule, nothing really beats being home, and separation has its consequences.
“Sometimes [hockey players] can miss school for two weeks,” says Mattila. “It’s hard for them to catch up in school. During that time away they’re going to be missing their friends and family back home.”
Ensuring billet families are aware of the signs of mental health issues, and educating them about mental health as much as possible is also a priority.
Players tend to seclude themselves during travel, and Mattila warns billet parents not to be passive when hockey players brush off inquiries.
“When they come home, make sure you talk to them. Pick their brain a little,” says Mattila. “Get in a bit of conversation and make sure that [the player] is fine.”
Already in the Quesnel Hall of Fame for outstanding athletic achievement, recipient of the YMCA Youth Initiative of the Year Award, torch bearer at the Canada Winter Games, guest speaker at Balancing Our Minds at Rogers Arena, on the Advisory Committee for the 2016 Balancing Our Minds event, representing CMHA Kelowna as their youth ambassador, and, more recently, assisting the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) Nelson Leafs team with their January 16 launch of the Breakout program, another mental health initiative, Mattila shows no signs of stopping.
“I haven’t really figured out what I want to do in the future yet,” says Mattila. “I have a lot of routes I can go, but whatever I choose I’m definitely going to bring mental health advocacy into it. I want to make sure people keep talking about it and try to end the stigma.