A new report by McGill University Faculty of Education researchers shows Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario’s Talk Today program is making a positive impact on athletes in the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL).
Talk Today in the CJHL: An evaluation of a mental health program in junior hockey provides an overview of how CMHA Ontario’s program for amateur athletes is influencing Jr. A hockey players across Canada. Among athletes surveyed in the CJHL whose teams participated in Talk Today during the 2021-22 season, McGill’s researchers discovered the vast majority of participants found a high degree of value in the program. Specifically:
- 91 per cent “agreed” or “strongly agreed” they were satisfied with the program
- 94 per cent learned “a medium amount” to “a lot” about mental health
- 86 per cent said they were “likely” or “very likely” to change the way they responded to individuals with mental health issues
Further, of the 68 athletes who participated in the evaluation pre- and post-participation, most indicated the training they’d received and the open discussions about mental health and suicide changed their thoughts and behaviours toward these issues. In particular:
- 69 per cent demonstrated a decrease in their own self-stigma about mental health and suicide
- 69 per cent demonstrated an increase in awareness of public stigma about mental health and suicide
- 60 per cent demonstrated an increase in knowledge and confidence to seek help
- 58 per cent demonstrated an increase in their knowledge in identifying, approaching and supporting a person experiencing mental health issues
- 53 per cent demonstrated an increase in their confidence in identifying and responding to a person with thoughts of suicide
“The context of elite junior hockey in North America is filled with high amounts of competitive stress, where athletes often fear the negative career consequences of disclosing mental health concerns,” said Dr. Gordon Bloom, one of the researchers on this project and professor of sport psychology who has been studying various psychosocial factors affecting hockey players for over 30 years. “The current results showing the hockey players’ receptivity to this program and increased knowledge of mental health difficulties all support the worth of future programs among groups with similar or higher levels of stigma, with the ultimate goal of creating an environment that is supportive and conducive of positive mental health among athletes.”
Talk Today is one of the most comprehensive mental health awareness and suicide prevention programs for amateur sports in Canada. Its aim is to promote suicide prevention, the mental health of young athletes and to spread awareness about the benefits of positive mental health throughout communities around the country.
The program originally launched in 2014 as a partnership between CMHA Ontario and the Ontario Hockey League. It has since expanded throughout major junior and Jr. A hockey across Canada, as well as into post-secondary, minor and community-based sports organizations.
Talk Today supports athletes through four core components:
- Each team is paired with a local CMHA Mental Health Coach. They are directly tied to each team to provide resources and supports for the players and the people that surround them.
- Mental health awareness and suicide prevention training developed specifically for the junior hockey environment. It teaches individuals to recognize persons with thoughts of suicide and how to take action to help.
- Each team appoints a Mental Health Champion to help the team connect with their local CMHA Mental Health Coach. Mental Health Champions can be coaches, trainers, staff or anyone else associated with the team.
- Where and when possible, teams host a Talk Today game day event to increase awareness about suicide prevention and promote positive mental health in their community.
The program was introduced in select CJHL leagues in 2019 and has expanded to eight of its member leagues across the country this season. Talk Today in the CJHL, as well as McGill’s research into the program, is generously funded by the Fifth Line Foundation and National Hockey League (NHL) Foundation.
“Our CMHA partners are doing tremendous work to ensure our rinks and dressing rooms are safe and supportive spaces where teammates and team personnel can speak openly about mental health,” said CJHL president Andy Harkness. “We’re grateful to the Fifth Line Foundation, NHL Foundation and CMHAs across Canada for making the mental wellness of CJHL athletes a priority.”
“The elite athletes in the CJHL face unique pressures to always be at their best, whether on ice, in school or giving back to their community, and thankfully the Talk Today program is there to help remind players there’s always room to talk about mental health,” said Fifth Line Foundation board chairman Bill Chow. “We’re pleased to see Talk Today is making a difference in the lives of CJHL athletes. The knowledge gained through the program has the potential to impact countless lives, which has made this a worthwhile cause to support in honour of those impacted by the Humboldt Broncos tragedy in 2018.”
“Reducing stigma around mental health and suicide can have far-reaching effects that go beyond the hockey environment and into the greater community,” said NHL Foundation senior manager John Sanful. “The NHL Foundation is proud to support Talk Today in the CJHL, and we’re thrilled to see how well the program has been received by the players.”
“These research results show that Talk Today is making a real, positive impact in dressing rooms and in communities across Canada,” said CMHA Ontario CEO Camille Quenneville. “We thank our partners at the Fifth Line Foundation, NHL Foundation and CJHL for their belief in and commitment to this program as a means to support these athletes, and we appreciate Dr. Bloom and the McGill research team for their collaboration on this project. They all have a hand in supporting the further development and advancement of this important initiative.”