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Open Mind Artistry - located at ODSS  STL  to   present   May 9, 2014  at  7pm 

Olympian Clara Hughes targeting youth depression.   Shed the light was there to welcome her


By TABITHA VENASSE For the Citizen

Clara Hughes The last few years there has been a push to try to break the stigma surrounding mental health and depression. One of the biggest voices has been the Bell Let’s Talk Campaign, which brought on board Clara Hughes, a six-time Olympic medal winner who has become an advocate for spreading awareness and getting the conversation rolling.

“That’s my big focus moving forward, is really getting the conversation going as young as elementary school,” explained Ms. Hughes. “To just normalize it. Normalize it just the way cancer has been normalized. It’s not your fault. It’s something that it happens – it can happen to anyone, it can happen to one out of every five Canadians.”

Last Wednesday evening (October 24), in partnership with the Royal Bank of Canada and Dufferin Child and Family Services (DCAFS), Ms. Hughes spoke at Orangeville District Secondary School to help launch their new Allies for Kids’ Mental Health program. More than 100 children, teens, parents, teachers coaches and mentors showed up to hear her tell her incredible story and talk about her own struggles with depression in life.

The crowd set captivated for over an hour as she told her journey from being a teenager who was more focused on partying than studying and moving forward, to being inspired by one of our Canadian Olympians to pursue speed skating and eventually cycling so that one day, she too could be a representative of Canada.

After winning her first Olympic medals, she found things starting to spiral downwards as she began to experience a deep, unexplained depression that started to take over her life.

“A couple months went by, and a couple more. Then that happiness and that joy was gone,” explained Ms. Hughes. “I was alone at night, not feeling so happy, not feeling so filled with joy. In fact, as the weeks went by and the months went by, that joy turned to darkness, and I was left all alone, each night. Two Olympic medals, and I felt like nothing.”

She added that she had no idea what was happening, because no one talked about it – nobody talked about depression or what it was, or how to beat it.

“Nobody talked about what that sadness was, when you couldn’t get out of bed; when you’re sitting their and you’re crying for no reason and it doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “You think you need to fix yourself and you just need to get better, and you can only show people your face when you can make a little fake smile. That’s what it felt like, and it went on for months.”

But Ms. Hughes’ story changed when a team doctor took notice and was willing to help her get back on track, help her to fight the depression and to change her life.

“It went on until a team doctor saw me crying in the airport, saw me crying on the way to a training camp,” she explained. “She took me aside that night and said ‘I think I know what you’re going through; let me explain what depression is.’”

It wasn’t easy, but going forward from there, Ms. Hughes was able to start changing her life for the better, and start the fight against depression and mental illness. It meant changing everything from eating habits, to sleeping habits, exercise habits and even training habits.

Since then, she has taken on the challenge of fighting the stigma and getting the conversation rolling, believing that the more people talk about it, the easier it will be to get people help who are facing depression and mental illness.

“Depression and mental illness is something that is different in form for each person,” Ms. Hughes said. “Some people will have to live with it for the rest of their lives. I am one of those one-in-five Canadians who suffers from mental illness in their lifetime.”

As she continued by encouraging the students and teens to be able to share their stories, she added that her hopes in sharing her own would help them realize we all have something to give.

“I hope that everybody here can realize that we all have something inside to give,” she said. “We all have the potential to change ourselves, our environment. We have the potential to share this with others, to support others, and those who need support, you know what? It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to take that hand that’s reaching out to you, because they’re there because they care. We all have that power.”

The biggest stigma Ms. Hughes said needs to be fought against is the idea that there is something wrong with being mentally ill, that it is somehow the fault of the sufferer.

“We have been conditioned to feel that we should be ashamed if we have any way, shape or form of mental illness,” she said. “And it’s not just in youth, it’s across the board in Canada and around the world. That’s been my big goal with Let’s Talk – to help start that conversation in Canada and then have Canadians talk in turn.”

According to her, talking is the most effective way to beat the stigma and to find a solution to the problem, a way to help get more Canadians that are facing mental illness the help that they need. The larger the voice, the more likely the government will have to face the fact that something needs to be done.

“I think the more we all talk about it, the more is it not only going to help people, but it’s going to show our government that there needs to be more funding put into mental health care and mental health,” she explained. “It’s way out of balance in terms of how many people are struggling and are not getting the help they need.”

At the end of her talk, the crowd gave Ms. Hughes a standing ovation and asked about everything from her Olympic career to her struggles with mental illness, and things people can do to help identify teens who may be struggling.

Ms. Hughes also announced that she would be donating $5000 to Allies for Kids’ Mental Health, the new initiative from DCAFS to help raise awareness in the Orangeville area.

“I hope by showing you with my stories and telling you clearly where I come from – no matter what you’re dealing with, anything is possible,” Ms. Hughes told the crowd. “It’s opening up your heart and your mind to the possibilities. Opening up your heart and mind to being inspired and the potential of that inspiration.”

For more information on the Bell Let’s Talk initiative, visit en/media.php .

To find out more about Allies for Kids’ Mental Health or how you can help out, you can visit the Dufferin Child and Family Services website at   

Scoring for mental health , by Chris Halliday
Jan-9-2012, Orangeville Banner

Pictured here are Shed the Light members along with the Bantam A hockey squad to help off the ice at tourney


Orangeville Bantam A Tigers will be focused both on and off the ice at the annual Sweetheart Tournament from Jan. 27 to 29. The club will team up with two youth groups, Shed The Light and Youth Talk, to raise awareness for mental health issues and preventing suicide. Chris Halliday

Contrary to Charlie Sheen’s philosophy, it is not all about winning for a local girls minor hockey team. When the 34th installment of the Orangeville Girls Hockey Association’s annual Sweetheart Tournament kicks off at the end of the month, the Orangeville Bantam A Tigers hockey team will be focused on raising awareness for youth mental health issues and preventing teen suicide. "I’m so proud of these girls because they have learned a valuable life lesson, giving back to other players, the community and just raising the awareness of mental health," said Tigers head coach Doug O’Malley. "(The tournament) is a great opportunity for that." Inspired by the Do it For Daron (D.I.F.D.) campaign, created by friends and family of female hockey player Daron Richardson who committed suicide at the age of 14 more than a year ago, the Orangeville team is dedicated to make it easier for kids to reach out for help without fear or shame. "This was sparked because of a female hockey player taking her own life," O’Malley said. "Now, because these girls are so close as a group and it was a female hockey player, it has sort of broken the ice and they have been made aware. They talk about it more openly, which is fantastic." When more than 1,000 female hockey players on about 70 different teams set to visit Orangeville for the annual tournament from Jan. 27 to 29, the Tigers will team up will two local groups to help get the mental health message out. Joined by the Tigers, Shed the Light, a youth group with Dufferin Child and Family Services (DCAFS), and Youth Talk from the Canadian Mental Health Association will be at the tournament providing information to children and families about what to watch for, how to respond and where to find help. Through both groups, local youth will share their own experiences with mental health challenges with players and families visiting Orangeville. "It is not adults preaching to kids. Youth will tend to listen more when the kids are doing the talking," said Tina Pryce, Shed The Light’s co-coordinator, who works as an administrator at DCAFS. "We give them the resources they need so they can go out and a lot of them will share their own personal stories. That makes it more real for the other kids that they’re talking to." If you ask Hailey Harrigan, a youth member of the Shed the Light for four years, it can be a difficult age for youth when it comes to mental health issues. The Orangeville resident said she knows a lot of teenagers facing anxiety issues, and they don’t know where to get help or deal with those symptoms properly. "It is the time when you’re really unbalanced and you’re figuring out the base of your life. All the other things, what you want to do. I think just that even itself can be really intimidating," Harrigan said. "Just having a steady group of people to rely on, but a healthy group of people, or a support system itself can be really good for most teenagers. ... A lot of teenagers don’t really have that." The six youth members of Shed the Light always look for opportunities to reach out to those who may need or want help. They have been invited to visit Westside Secondary School this spring and attended the Town of Orangeville’s Youth Night in December. But as Harrigan explained, the group will enter a new forum in late January. "I have never gone into this kind of topic athletically," she said. "So I think for some people it is going to be a touchy subject." Although the Bantam A Tigers are serious about hockey, the weekend is as much about talking mental health issues and preventing suicide than it is about hitting the ice. If they can help change the life of just one person, it will be worth it in O’Malley’s book. "Reducing the negative stigma that surrounds mental health in general (is the goal), whether it is a parent’s point of view, a kid’s point of view," Pryce said. "A lot of kids don’t want to say they are having an issue because they are embarrassed because of that negative stigma associated with it."


Alder Youth Night - Dec-2011

The Town of Orangeville holds regular Youth Nights where youth can enjoy many activities at the Rec. Centre for free.  Shed the Light provided a resource table and answered any questions youth had re Mental Health.  It only takes one person to help...

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