Mental health within sports, a growing conversation


Mental health has become a growing concern around the world, our nation, and our community. Although we have taken some steps towards breaking the stigma, the sports world is somewhat behind. With recent developments in the sporting world, I felt it was the right time to talk about this important topic once again.

I was able to speak with Leni Mazzuca from the Canadian Mental Health Association about how athletes struggle with mental health and what they can do to help themselves and others.

We spoke on how sometimes there is more of a stigma around mental health in the sports world than other areas and how it starts at a young age.”Even starting off at a young age kids worry about what other kids are thinking, Leni explained. ” They are afraid that other people are going to find out .” We see this just as often if not more often in the sports world.

When Leni and I were speaking on that topic, it reminded me that these athletes are people and sometimes that is forgotten when we are watching, cheering, and sometimes complaining. We don’t know if someone is dealing with mental health issues, we can’t see that. ” It’s probably the biggest concern, ” said Leni. You could be sitting across at the dinner table, doing an interview like this and one or the two of  us could be dealing with mental illness and you would rarely know, as we don’t talk about it openly.”

Not speaking about mental illness openly really goes back to the stigma around mental illness. To “tough it out” so to speak. This is a stigma we really see in the sports world. A stigma we most definitely want to break.

Leni also talked about his years of coaching and playing sports and how mental health was a topic that was never really talked about. “I have lived my whole life, growing up playing sports. It’s something we never talked about at a young age”. Leni explained, ” my home life was my home life. Whatever I did at home or whatever was happening at home stayed at home, but at the end of the day, there were about four or five people who were dealing with the same circumstances”

It was the same for me when I played sports. You didn’t talk about your mental health or if you were struggling with it you would never tell your teammates or coaches. It just was something you didn’t do.

Leni however was happy to tell me that this is changing in the sports world at a young age. Coaches are working with their players to help young athletes talk about their mental health.

To me, this feels like a big step in the right direction. It is important to have our youth talk about their feelings and not just hold it all in.

Leni also wanted to inform our viewers that the Canadian Mental Health Association has programs to help coaches and their staff assist their players regarding their mental health. These programs are

  • Mental health first aid
  • Safe talk
  • Assist training
  • Talk today ( this program is based the most around sporting programs)

As we talked about things going in the right direction, Lenni touched on how it is so important for professional athletes to speak up, about their mental health as kids really do look up to them. This can certainly help break the stigma.

“Our kids look up to these athletes so much, ” Leni explained further. “For them to be speaking on stuff like this. If any of these things have been experienced by them (professional athletes). They know now it’s okay to go tell a parent, a friend or a mental health counselor. To tell someone they trust.

In most recent events we had Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price start to talk about his struggles with mental health and addictions. We also saw Kyle Beach come forward about his struggles as someone who was sexually abused while in the NHL and how it affected his mental health. Having athletes come forward is making a difference to help break the stigma and help the younger generation moving forward.

If you only take away one thing from this interview, take away this. ” Don’t be scared, ” said Leni. “There are lots of people out there going through something similar, it’s never too small of an issue. It’s never too big of an issue but, you have to be able to talk to someone. “

And to people who want to help their loved ones, just listen and be there for each other.  We all struggle. However, we can help one another make the world, not just the sports world, a better place.