Like peas and carrots. Like peanut butter and jam. Like mental health and hockey?
Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way. But this past December when they named Do it For Daron (D.I.F.D.) at the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health as the official charity of the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, all the partners involved knew it was a match made in heaven.
“It was a natural fit for the women’s world championship”, event general manager Valerie Hughes said. “The Richardson’s lived here. Daron played here. Their oldest daughter, Morgan, played here. Luke coached girls in the city. And we have an international platform to spread the word about youth mental health. It is the right thing to do.”
D.I.F.D. was created by friends and family of 14-year-old Daron Richardson, who died by suicide in 2010. Daughter of Luke Richardson, who coaches the farm team for the Ottawa Senators, the Binghamton Senators, and his wife Stephanie, the organization raises awareness and inspires conversations about suicide and youth mental health.
“What we want to do with D.I.F.D.,” the Richardsons explain, “is to get rid of the shame and stigma. We want to build resilience into kids. We want to link the mental and physical, so that as easily as they say, ‘My arm hurts,’ they’ll say, ‘My head hearts.’ ”
As much as Daron’s death rocked the hockey world, D.I.F.D. has galvanized it. The Richardsons say they had immediate support for D.I.F.D. “It was incredible. Hockey Canada got behind it and strong women like Fran Rider (event co-chair and president of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association) and Pat Nicholls (vice-president of the OWHA) were big supporters from the beginning. They wanted to know how they could help. How they could build resilience in their players,” Stephanie Richardson said.
So when the women’s world championship was announced, it was natural to nominate D.I.F.D. as the official charity. Besides its connection with a popular hockey family, it was a natural fit with the young players on the ice, since most fit into an age category known for a high incidence of mental health issues.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 24 per cent of all deaths among 15-24 year olds in Canada is by suicide, the third highest in the industrialized world. Only one out of five children who need help will actually receive it.
As Nicole Loreto, vice-president of communications and stakeholder relations at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre says, “It resonates with the young players.”
The challenge, Loreto continues, is to get the parents talking too. “Kids want the conversation. They ask, ‘Why is there a stigma about having mental health issues?’ But many parents are afraid to talk about suicide, fearing their kids will then go out and do it. Research shows, they won’t … But if parents are uncomfortable talking about it, the kids will sense that and they won’t talk.”
Other events intended to shine the spotlight on youth mental health include:
1. Promotional tables throughout the championship to share information about youth mental health and more educational pieces shown on the video board at SBP Arena to help raise awareness.
2. The 50/50 draw on Wednesday, April 3 that will donate a portion of the proceeds to D.I.F.D. at The Royal.
3. A designated Power to Purple (Daron’s favorite colour) section on Wednesday, April 3, where discounted tickets are available and five dollars from each ticket will go to D.F.I.D. at The Royal.
The funds raised at the women’s worlds will go to help sponsor D.I.F.D. workshops such as Is It Just Me?, a program presented at The Royal by professionals and young adults dealing with mental illness. Groups of teens learn about depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and cyber-bullying, as well as resiliency and coping techniques to reduce stress and stay healthy.
In the end, one girl’s tragic story, a story that resonates with so many teens, gave courage to many partners to create change; the Richardsons’ courage to share Daron’s story, the courage of the women’s worlds organizers who are willing to spotlight a tough issue, the courage of a whole community who will come out and support D.I.F.D. on April 3, and, ultimately, the courage of children to raise their hands without shame – before there is another tragic story to share.
“Nothing will bring Daron back. Whether we do something or not, she’s gone,” Stephanie Richardson said. “How awful if we didn’t help. How awful if we couldn’t change anything.”
To reserve tickets for the Power to Purple section on April 3, please visit www.hockeycanada.ca/2013ottawa and enter promo code DIFD. For more information about D.F.I.D. at The Royal, please visit www.difd.com.