Something happened this week that made it perfect timing for a blog update.
As many of you know, while training for last month’s Ottawa Marathon, I raised funds for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. The Foundation invited me and my teammates (Cathy and Melissa) to an appreciation event at the Royal on Monday, June 19.
Attending the event, to provide their support and thanks, were Luke and Stephanie Richardson. For those not from Ottawa, Luke is an Ottawa-born NHL alumnus, who played with the Ottawa Senators from 2007 though 2009, and was assistant coach with the team for a few years following. He is still active with the team as head coach of the Binghamton Senators in the AHL.
But that’s not why the Richardsons’ presence at the event was noteworthy.
Their story is tragic. In 2010, Luke and Stephanie lost their then 14-year-old daughter, Daron, to suicide. At the time, they were unaware of Daron’s mental health issues and struggles.
I remember thinking, while listening to Luke and Stephanie speak: they have experienced an unspeakable tragedy.
But ironically, that notion was contrary to the entire point of their talk.
Rather than retreating into private silence from the resulting pain and hardship – which would have been an entirely understandable response – the Richardsons decided instead to use their loss as a call to action, creating Do It For Daron (DIFD). DIFD was initially a grassroots effort to raise awareness of issues relating to teenage mental health, and create opportunities for youth to talk about their feelings and ask for help, versus suffering silently and alone under the weight of the stigma related to mental health issues.
DIFD aims to achieve this transformation by providing youth, teachers, coaches and others with the strength and resources to engage and create conversations about mental health issues – and to get help when needed.
To say the movement has grown, would be an understatement. The purple DIFD heart is a universally-known symbol in the Ottawa area. Teenagers are learning that it’s OK to to have bad feelings, and that if they do, it’s OK to reach out for help, and engage others in conversation.
And the Royal is part of the process. The Royal spearheads initiatives that support DIFD such as: research and information to help prevent suicide; programs like Is It Just Me? that teach high school-aged kids about their feelings and how the brain works; the HealthyMinds app that helps kids gauge their feelings and deal with stress; and other initiatives designed to better understand youth mental health and equip our youth with the tools and resources they need to cope.
And yet … and, yet – we are still losing our kids to suicide and other outcomes from mental illness. Our work is never done.
Listening to Luke and Stephanie speak – using their story to urge teens to talk, and their friends, parents, coaches and others to ask questions – was incredibly moving.
These courageous people have made the unspeakable, speakable.
For this reason, I’m going to keep raising money for the Royal and for DIFD – through my running and through other fundraising initiatives. Our kids are too rare and precious not to throw all of our resources behind.
So be on the watch for my future runs and other related events, that I’ll share with you. Thank you in advance, for any support you can lend along the way.
In the meantime – click on the link below and take a look:
Luke and Stephanie discuss their experience, DIFD, and the importance of caring for our youth.