Student-athletes find ways to engage with Bell Let’s Talk day during virtual university
Graphic by Nigel Mathias
In a year where many folks have been confined within the walls of their home, the toll on individuals’ mental health is a field where many experts have explored. With the recent Bell Let’s Talk day event, it is now more important than ever to emphasize taking care of oneself.
Bell Let’s Talk was first introduced in the fall of 2010. The initiative places great importance on four main pillars: research, care and access, workplace health and anti-stigma. With specific regards to research and care, studies into the effects of COVID-19 on mental health care were funded by a $2 million donation by Bell Let’s Talk.
From conversations around mental health, approximately 83 per cent of Canadians reported that Bell Let’s Talk improved perspectives around mental illness.
From a local perspective, the initiative has taken a great stride on campus grounds. In 2017, university athletic associations around the country partnered with Bell Let’s Talk to create a mental health awareness video campaign for student-athletes.
Within their series discussing the stigma of mental illness, six student-athletes were featured, including Cindy Nelles, a women’s rugby player at McMaster University.
“I think it’s important for student-athletes to talk about mental health because it creates an open dialogue that builds understanding and compassion between peers and allows you to develop a better relationship with people who are in need of help,” said Nelles.
Typically at McMaster, the Varsity Leadership Committee of McMaster sports holds a panel around this initiative. Athletes come out and talk about their journey with mental health. In previous years, teams come together, take photos, wear their hats, bring their banners and gather together to converse about the day.
Now, as the school year is online, teams have still found ways to continue the initiative behind their screens. Annalisa Nguyen, a member of the McMaster rowing team, explains to us how her team adapted to this change.
“I’m the media officer and what I’ve done this year is create a database of mental health resources like meditation, journaling, therapy, counsellors in Hamilton . . . We reached out to third party organizations. We collaborated with one of them and had a lot of blog posts go up. We had one of your rowers write about body dysmorphia and poor eating habits in rowing. We also have a podcast about one of our rowers talking about having OCD,” said Nguyen.
Nguyen reiterated the importance of destigmatizing mental illness as part of Bell Let’s Talk day.
“I think despite all the efforts done in the past around mental health, I think there still is a really big stigma around it. Bell Let’s Talk day is a day where you can show your support to whoever is suffering in silence . . . It creates a safe space for those who need it, so they know who to go to,” explained Nguyen.
The McMaster women’s soccer team also conducted similar activities on this day, as explained by fourth-year player Amy Jenkins.
“This year was a bit different being online. We got sent hats and within your house, you can write banners and take photos to have a presence on our Instagram. We also had a check-in on Thursday. Just doing those check-ins is really important since we’re not doing in-person training, important to stay connected in that way,” said Jenkins.
Jenkins further explained that despite the fact Bell Let’s Talk day only occurs once a year, the team will continue the conversation on their Instagram for days after the event.
“Sometimes you might forget to check-in on yourself so we thought we might contribute . . . We want to continue this conversation,” said Jenkins.
Bridget McLellan, a fourth-year player and co-President of the McMaster women’s ice hockey team, shared how they contributed to the initiative.
“For this year, we didn’t do much. The girls who were [in] Hamilton got hats and took photos. We posted all the photos on Instagram. We just tried to participate as much as we could safely,” said McLellan.
In previous years, the team posted videos leading up to the day featuring different players, discussing what they do for mental health and wellness. While the team did not collaborate with other McMaster sports teams this year, they were able to participate in the pink week last year.
To McLellan, the day shows her how common mental illness is and the importance of educating oneself. With that being said, she believed that more work must be done beyond this day.
“It’s a good day, but I think for a lot of people, it’s not just a day for them. Mental illness is not just a day, it’s everyday . . . Let’s celebrate Bell Let’s Talk, but we need to be critical on how to keep the conversation going,” said McLellan.
In a year where sports have been cancelled entirely, Jenkins, McLellan and Nguyen have all emphasized the seismic loss their teams have felt and the importance of taking care of one’s mental health throughout this journey.
With that being said, all three have reiterated that coming together within their respective teams has lifted motivation levels among members as a whole.