By Emilie Medland-Marchen, February 14 2017 —
The University of Calgary Dinos athletics department got involved in this year’s Bell Let’s Talk day on Jan. 25 in a big way.
Bell Let’s Talk is a social media campaign dedicated to starting a conversation about mental health and leading de-stigmatization efforts across Canada. Engaging with the hashtag on social media, the Dinos helped raise awareness about the stigma of mental health in sport among student athletes.
The Gauntlet sat down with Dinos athletics department director Chrsitine Stapleton to discuss the Dinos’ involvement this year and how approaches to mental health have changed in sport culture since she was an athlete.
The Gauntlet: What led to the Dinos getting involved in Bell Let’s Talk?
Christine Stapleton: Last year, the Atlantic University Consortium got together as a regional association and put together a conference-wide message of videos and opportunities with student athletes. The Bell Let’s Talk folks saw how impactful that it was and rolled it out across Canada. Each regional association in Canada actually was involved. Institutionally, we wanted to be involved, but as a member of Canada West and with Canada West being involved in Canadian University Sport, it was a country-wide initiative.
It was a no-brainer for the U of C and the Dinos to get involved. So when Bell Let’s Talk asked, we answered the call. And when we walked down that path with our peers, Bell Let’s Talk provided everything. It really was quite simple for us to execute on campus.
G: What impact can Dinos athletes have on starting conversations about mental health in Canada?
S: I think it’s important that, whether we like it or not, student athletes have a bit of a higher profile on campus because they’re competing against peer institutions. We have a responsibility to talk about it within our own population. It’s really important that we’re not only leaders in the competitive environment, we’re [also] leaders in a conversation as important as this.
G: What was your experience as an athlete with mental health and how have perspectives towards it changed since then?
S: Well, it’s a conversation. When I played, we didn’t even really talk about it. We all wanted to be healthy, but we never really talked about our mental health — it was always our physical health. When we would go through challenges as a team — and I coached for many years as well — you didn’t understand what happened off the court. In my case, I was a basketball player and a basketball coach. It wasn’t talked about as much. Whereas now, in my eight [or] nine years as a director in the sport administration side, it’s a part of the way I talk to the coaches, and it’s something that I ask the coaches about their student athletes.
G: What did the Dinos do this year on the day and in the weeks leading up to Bell Let’s Talk?
S: Every day on our social media — we’re very well followed on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook — we highlighted a different team with individual photos, as well as team photos. And they would share on the bubble cards, with the hashtag Bell Let’s Talk. Each one of our teams got toques and we hosted games [like] Bell Let’s Talk hockey games and court games.
Canada West had a video that we produced for Bell Let’s Talk, featuring one of our student athletes — the assistant captain of the men’s hockey team, Elgin Pierce. We played that at each one of our games and it was very much part of the lead up to Bell Let’s Talk. We had our countdown day up until Bell Let’s Talk and then on the final day we had a mash-up of all of our photos. Then I led my team — the department — in taking photos highlighting how we were feeling.
G: What do you think that video did to break the stigma and start a conversation about mental health?
S: We have a leadership group within our varsity teams. Two or three athletes get together about once every six weeks and talk about leadership topics and we discuss Bell Let’s Talk. Even starting with that group was extremely powerful. We’re extremely appreciative that Elgin got involved along with other student athletes from our peer institutions. I think it was extremely important for someone like Elgin, who is a leader within his own population of student athletes, to become a leader on our bigger campus where there are close to 30,000 students. Everybody has a story.
G: There seems to be more of a focus in sports on physical health and less of a focus on psychological support and mental health. Can you speak to that at all?
S: [Within the Dinos] we don’t have any [resources] that are outside what’s offered to all the students at the University of Calgary. We just don’t have the capacity. I would love to have a more specialized service for student athletes because I think their experiences here on campus are unique. Currently we don’t have a student service designed to specifically serve student athletes, but we absolutely communicate with our student athletes about the services that are available through the Wellness Centre on campus.
G: How do you think starting this conversation can help other students not necessarily involved with the Dinos?
S: I think it’s important because I’ve been on campus for about a year and a half and one of the first things that I read was the hashtag, “we are all Dinos.” I was really appreciative of how excited and how widely our student athletes participated in the campaign this year, going from nothing last year to an intentional focus this year and having a resounding pickup by our student athletes. Having our social media timelines filled with our own students [engaging] with the social media — that was a really influential day that we’ll be able to focus on next year.
Edited for clarity and brevity.