WESTLOCK The Soul Sisters Memorial Foundation and the Westlock Warriors scored big when they recruited former NHL star Theoren Fleury to town as part of their annual collaboration to encourage men to reach out for help when they’re experiencing mental health issues.
Boys have been brought up for generations, told not to cry and not to be emotional. They learn to be stern instead, ooze machismo, keep their problems to themselves and show no weakness. It’s difficult to break down social conditioning that has existed since before recorded human history.
It may have served a purpose for our ancestors, but breaking that instinct may be an essential part of moving forward as a society. You can still be masculine, even if you see a therapist.
Certainly, if a seven-time NHL all star, Stanley Cup champion and Olympic gold medallist can do it, so can the roughest, toughest, manliest men in northern Alberta. Hopefully, events like this will contribute to busting the stigma that mental illness is a weakness.
If everyone surrendered themselves to a little bit of therapy every couple weeks, the world would be a much better place. If people felt good, or at least in touch, with themselves, there wouldn’t be nearly as much nastiness out there. There would surely be fewer murders, assaults and addictions, and less crime in general.
Mental health is just not taken nearly as seriously as other types of health. It is unseen and hidden until it manifests itself in the behaviour of an individual. People go years, decades even, struggling to keep themselves together for the sake of their job or family or any other number of reasons.
There are statistics out there that say one-in-five Canadians suffer from a mental illness, but Fleury told the crowd it’s more like five-in-five, because if you’re not suffering yourself, someone close to you is.
“If you have parents, you have trauma,” he half-joked.
He also spoke of the importance of forgiveness on the road to recovery, sharing a story about an inmate he met during a public speaking gig. The inmate, who called Fleury his hero, told him he was in the same institution as Fleury’s abuser, Graham James, and had hatched a plan to assault the convicted sex offender on behalf of his hero. However, after finding James, alone in his cell, on the floor in the fetal position, he decided against it.
“You’re my hero,” Fleury told him.