VANCOUVER, B.C. - Today is a very important day from coast to coast as Bell is raising awareness for mental health issues with Bell Let's Talk Day. Mental health issues affects people from all walks of life all over the world. It doesn't matter if you're an athlete, lawyer, teacher or a bin man or woman. Each and all of us most likely know a close friend or family member that has had a tough time with a personal mental health issue.
The Vancouver Whitecaps organization are fully behind helping and supporting people who need help with mental health issues. Carl Robinson always backs his players to the hilt and that's no different when it comes to off the pitch situations.
"It's important that we support anyone within the club that could do with a little bit of help in relation to making it a little bit more comfortable for them. We're always supportive of our players with health issues."
It is often assumed that people playing sports don't have anything to worry about. The make pretty decent money, play sports and travel the world. What kind of problem is that?
That's simply not true. The pressure to perform, train, stay healthy and fit is massive. No player wants to lose a place on a team-sheet. The day-to-day grind can take a toll and cause stress for anyone. Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted acknowledges some of the pressures footballers can face.
"I think it's an issue in a sense that obviously we are under pressure every single weekend to perform. I think it's important that you don't shy away from that and you acknowledge that there are pressures. Find someone to speak with. If it's a friend, family, a coach. Seek the help that you can get."
Former Vancouver Whitecaps centre-back Andy O'Brien spoke about his battle with depression when he played football for Leeds United. O'Brien's move to Major League Soccer helped him overcome some of his lowest points. Playing with Vancouver gave him a new perspective on life and an opportunity to play with the Whitecaps.
The Whitecaps participate in hundreds of community events each year. Having a presence in the community helps to put a face on the team, fans, and others not familiar with MLS and the Whitecaps. Ousted knows how important it to make a connection within the community. Bell Let's Talk Day is another way to close the gap and open more of a discussion on important issues like mental health.
"I think our presence in the community is very important. I think opportunities like these gets us out and helping in any possible way. I think it's a great initiative from Bell to do this. As a club were happy to help."
It's vital to ask for help. Too many people sit by thinking that they don't want to burden someone with what they are going through. Ousted has a message for those worried about reaching out for help.
"You'd say seek help. I think you'd be surprised at how many people would love to help people in those situations. I think mental illness is better to speak about than to not say anything about it and seek the help that's available."
A lot has changed since Carl Robinson was a football player. In those days you would never hear any sort of talk about off the pitch issues. Any sort of information perceived as a weakness would certainly result in ridicule and mocking from opposition spectators and even teammates.
Fast forward to today and the spotlight for mental health issues is getting better. Finding a solution is not as easy as buying a Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) lamp. Robinson has seen the changes with the awareness level and has his own three key steps to helping those who need some help.
"I think it's been magnified a lot more and it's important that it is. It is a problem that does exist and it's important you address it. It's not something as simple as dealing with it overnight. It takes a prolonged period. Identifying it is the first thing, dealing with it and helping people through it is the second thing, and supporting them after they think they're through it is the third thing. We as a club are always supportive of our players, which is why we have open communication to try and allow them to feel comfortable whatever they need and whatever they worry, that they come us, the club and also me on a personal level as a manager."
Gershon Koffie is one of the longest tenured Vancouver Whitecaps. He has seen a lot of players come and go and he has lived through the ups and downs of the club. The 24 year-old admitted that he has probably unknowingly helped his teammates through a difficult time at some point. Not everyone is willing to talk openly as others. Koffie wants to see more of an online presence with mental health issues.
"I think to help each other we have to put it on social media more for players to get awareness about it. When we see that we are having a conversation about it we can bring it in so people can get to know."
Bell Let's Talk Day is a great way to start the process, but mental health issues aren't just a one day problem. Breaking the code of silence and opening up needs to occur more as a normal everyday practice. Everyone has something that they are dealing with. Talking is the key to breaking the silence cycle.
Carl Robinson has a final message for those who dealing with mental health issues.
"I do yeah, I think it's important that it continues to grow. There are problems, everyone has problems and issues. Life in general is hard, the world is a hard enough place to live in without any problems so if there is an issue or a problem with mental issues. These people need to know that we are 100 percent behind them as a club and individuals as well and we are. We want everyone to be well."
Canadian Mental Health Association - http://www.cmha.ca/
Bell Let's Talk - http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/
Kids Help Phone - 1-800-668-6868