By Kristy Koehler, October 19 2018 —
Calgarian and former NHL player Bob Wilkie is passionate about mental health. The one-time Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings defenceman grew up in the hockey world and, having worked with hundreds of athletes and their families, found that virtually everyone in the sporting world has been impacted by mental health issues.
He and his team, including former NHL goaltender and current Hockey Night in Canada analyst Kelly Hrudey and expert mental health clinician Shawn O’Grady, are embarking on a nationwide tour called I Got Mind. The mental health advocacy tour began in Calgary on Oct. 18 with more dates scheduled for Edmonton, Vancouver and across Canada.
“When I was out there doing work with teens and athletes and families, I saw a pretty consistent need,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie’s own experience in battling mental illness inspired him to research mental health issues in young athletes. The idea to begin actively working on the mental health of those involved in sport was formed in 2011. Since then, he has done hundreds of presentations in smaller venues.
“All those little things have allowed me to create this big thing,” Wilkie said. He adds that he wants people to know that mental health doesn’t need to be seen as a bad thing, or even something overly dramatic. He says O’Grady is excellent at explaining the science behind mental health issues, normalizing it in a way that makes sense to people.
Getting Hrudey involved was a no-brainer. Wilkie said he was the natural first call when the idea for I Got Mind came to life and has been an enthusiastic partner ever since.
“Everyone knows who Kelly is. He has a great story and he’s a huge [mental health] advocate,” he said.
Having such high-profile athletes on board will hopefully show others that they are not alone. Not only is it important to speak to the athletes, but the people who will be interacting with them most — parents and coaches.
“What everybody says the most is that I wish there was more to help around the mental side of the game,” Wilkie said. “If you go around to hockey tryouts in the city, parents are totally stressed … the coaches are stressed, parents are calling saying ‘why isn’t my kid on this or that team?’ ”
Wilkie says the changing structure of sport is partially to blame for some of the mental health issues today’s athletes face.
“You always here the stories of, ‘When I grew up we didn’t have indoor rinks’ and all those things — but it’s true. We had to be much more social in the sport,” he said. “That’s how we figured stuff out. We all went to the playground. Nowadays we just don’t get that — everything is so structured. We need that creative time.”
I Got Mind has partnered with KidSport, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to get children involved in sports. Proceeds from Wilkie and Hrudey’s books, on-sale at the event, as well as 20 percent of proceeds from ticket sales sold through the KidSport link, will benefit the charity. I Got Mind featured Bob Wilkie’s story, the science of mental health and a panel discussion.