OTTAWA – At six-foot-four and 215 pounds, Luke Richardson could never hide on an NHL rink.
After a recent profound family tragedy, he's standing just as tall off the ice as well.
Richardson, his wife Stephanie and surviving daughter Morgan are teaming up with the Ottawa Senators and an Ottawa hospital to raise awareness about teenage mental illness. Richardson's 14-year-old daughter Daron took her own life last November, a devastating blow for the former NHL defenceman, his family, friends and the National Hockey League fraternity.
“We decided to speak publicly about suicide because we wanted to make a difference in other people's lives,” Richardson said Feb. 2 at a news conference at Scotiabank Place.
With his wife watching, Richardson struggled to articulate a life “filled with never-to-be-answered questions and pain.”
“We are a close family,” he said. “We spend a lot of time together and we talk a lot about a lot of things, whether it be sex, drugs, bullying, the Internet. But we never had that one conversation on mental health and suicide.”
Tuesday, Feb. 8, would have been Daron's 15th birthday, and the Richardsons and the Royal Ottawa Hospital want parents and children to mark the day by discussing mental-health concerns. They've launched a campaign called Do It For Daron, at HYPERLINK "http://www.doitfordaron.com" www.doitfordaron.com. Information is also available at HYPERLINK "http://www.youknowwhoIam.com" www.youknowwhoIam.com.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death, behind accidents, for Canadian youth between ages 15 and 24. Studies show that half of all mental disorders begin during adolescence.
Yet few families want to open their grief to the world, and media outlets have been reluctant to publicize suicides for fear of copycats.
The Richardsons held a huge public funeral service for Daron in November, a week after her death at their Ottawa home, and made it clear from the outset they wanted to address the scourge of teen suicide.
Tim Kluke, the president and CEO of the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, said the Richardsons' selfless act has opened the floodgates for public inquiries.
“Once we began to talk about suicide and parents started to realize the statistics that were in front of them, immediately it was: ‘How do I have the conversation? Give me some tools, give me some information.’”
“I think for all of us it has been a taboo subject,” said Kluke.
Richardson personally donated $100,000 to the cause Wednesday, matching the total already raised by the Do It For Daron campaign begun by his daughter's friends.
The Ottawa Senators also announced they will hold an annual Youth Mental Health Awareness Night, the first one on Feb. 26 when the Philadelphia Flyers – one of Richardson's longtime NHL homes – are in town for a game.
“We need to change the culture of this topic and make it OK to speak about mental health and suicide,” said Richardson.