What made you start #SickNotWeakFoundation?
I started talking about mental health for the same reason I started the sick not weak foundation. There’s a huge shocking benefit to simply sharing your own experience with mental health. I experienced it for the first time on Off the Record in 2009 when I talked with another professional hockey player; we each spoke briefly about our experience with depression and that’s why I’m here today talking about sick not weak. I found out with the reaction from this that there is something hugely empowering for people to hear someone else speak about their experience with the illness and to talk about it without shame, embarrassment, and without sounding weak.
It was at that point where the idea for sick not weak foundation came to mind. What I found out over time was allowing people to feel understood is crucial, and if you feel like someone understands you, immediately you don’t feel quite as isolated by talking about how the illness makes you feel and what it does to you. When people hear that they’ll almost always say ‘Me too’, and at a certain level, we all experience depression in the same way. I’m driven to allow people to feel like they’re understood. I’m driven to show the caregivers of people with a mental illness that they’re sick not weak. By doing this, the stigma around mental health would disappear.
Loneliness is not about the number of people around you, its about the number of people who understand you.
What does neurodiverse mean to you? How can this term be used to help destigmatize mental illness?
There are a million ways I would explain neurodiversity using analogies that are more obvious. The thing about the brain and mental illness and neurodiversity is everybody’s brain looks the same to the naked eye. If you do an x-ray of the brain, they kinda all look the same, unlike physical characteristics that are definitively different from each other. It’s easy to make the assumption that we’re all dealing with the same abilities, for instance, to remain mentally healthy. I look at it like a roller coaster, if we both go on a roller coaster, I’m nervous and scared but you’re happy and having a great time. Why is it that I’m nervous but you’re having a great time? The answer is because were neurological divergent, we are wired differently. Some people are more equipped to handle emotional situations than others, and unless you understand that, I don’t think you really appreciate the fact that an illness like depression is not something that we will upon ourselves or a reflection of weakness, it’s a reflection of something we don’t fully understand yet.
What advice do you have for readers looking to improve their mental health post pandemic?
Being social is a skill, we get better at it every time we do it. We are out of practice with socializing. Something we were totally comfortable with before the pandemic, sitting in a boardroom at work or going to a party with 12 people, we were relaxed, and it didn’t previously make it anxious. Now, we’re out of practice and we lost confidence because we haven’t done it in a while. The first advice I would give is to talk to others about it; finding out that others feel the same way is hugely empowering. If you’re worried about how you’re reacting to this two-year pandemic, the first thing you should do is start the conversation with your peers, co-workers, and families and talk about it. By exposing some vulnerability, you will get others to expose vulnerability to you and you will find out everyone is feeling the same way. Socializing gets better with practice so continue practising until you get that confidence back. It is also important for people to be able to distinguish between ‘pandemic panic’ which is a normal, healthy reaction to a bad situation and mental illness.