After a four-year run in the NOJHL, three other leagues within the Canadian Junior Hockey League have committed to participate this season in Talk Today, a multi-faceted Canadian Mental Health Association program that promotes positive mental health while supporting individuals who may find themselves in crisis.
The Sudbury Star
With support from the NHL Foundation, nearly 1,000 players on almost 50 teams across the Central Canada Hockey League, Manitoba Junior Hockey League, Maritime Junior Hockey League and NOJHL will benefit from Talk Today in 2019-20.
For Rayside-Balfour Canadians head coach Dan Cuomo, who lived for roughly 40 years in Europe and has coached at various levels of hockey, the support of CMHA, the dialogue of positive mental health, is always welcome.
“Kids do get more depressed than in my day,” said Cuomo, 64. “I see it happening. It’s sad, really.”
He has watched videos on the growing prevalence of depression and mental illness, and has witnessed it in person as a coach.
Fluent in Dutch, German and English, Cuomo served as a head coach in the Netherlands’ top division for 10 seasons, winning three championships and advancing to two other league finals.
The Levack native also coached under-20 and U-18 teams in various countries and served as a European scout for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL from 2011-16.
Living in Europe for as long as he did, Cuomo described it as, “completely different.”
“There’s always a little bit of a fallback for the kids,” he said. “What you have here in Canada, you basically have your parents and that’s it. Once you fall out of that realm, you’re on your own.”
In Europe, Cuomo added, “there’s a cultural way of behaving outside the house, how you greet people during the day, how you come into a restaurant, but that’s evolved over thousands of years, and it also helps when things go wrong. Everywhere, things can go wrong and not everything is perfect. But there, there is a bit of a fallback in the culture which I miss here. The kids have something to grab on there when things go wrong.”
Talk Today in the NOJHL began in 2015 and since then nearly 700 players, team staff, billets and family members have received mental health and suicide prevention training.
This season, CMHAs in Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury/Manitoulin, Cochrane-Timaskaming and Muskoka-Parry Sound will support another 280 players across the NOJHL’s 12 teams.
Talk Today has four key elements:
– Mandatory evidence-based mental health and suicide awareness workshops for athletes that enable them to not only recognize when a teammate, classmate, friend or family member may be struggling, but gives them tools to speak openly about suicide and assist in getting individuals support;
– A designated CMHA mental health coach is connected to each NOJHL team, so that they can help in case someone with the club is struggling or seeking mental health information or services;
– NOJHL clubs will host Talk Today game days with related social media activities to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental health and addictions issues;
– A club mental health champion, who works with CMHA personnel to help implement the training and awareness activities.
“As early adopters of the program, we’ve experienced first-hand how Talk Today can help reduce stigma and normalize conversations about mental health around the rink and in the community,” NOJHL commissioner Robert Mazzuca said in a statement. “Mental health should no longer be a taboo subject in sports and the expansion of Talk Today across the CJHL will help raise awareness and provide resources to players who need it.”
“We’ve seen the impact of Talk Today and how it can help reduce stigma and normalize conversations about mental health around the rink and in the community,” added CMHA Sudbury/Manitoulin CEO Patty MacDonald. “Mental health should no longer be a taboo subject in sports and the expansion of Talk Today across the MHL will help raise awareness and provide resources to players who need it.”