Sheldon Kennedy Talks Mental Health

Hunting Hills High School honored to have former hockey professional and abuse survivor speak at event

By: Lexi Wright

Children who are abused are 30% less likely to graduate high school. Children who are abused are 26 times more likely to experience youth homelessness. 72% of people in treatment and detox centers were exposed to childhood abuse. These facts were just a few of many presented by Sheldon Kennedy to more than 1350 students at Hunting Hills High School on May 9th.

Kennedy is known for his remarkable achievements in winning the Order of Canada, Alberta Order of Excellence, and for playing in the NHL - but his presentation did not focus on his achievements. Instead, Kennedy focused on his personal struggles with mental health.

Kennedy is an incredible advocate for mental health awareness, particularly for victims of sexual abuse, which stemmed from his own history of prolonged sexual abuse perpetrated by his ex-hockey coach, Graham James.

“[The media] doesn't talk about Sheldon Kennedy being in 8 different treatment centers, Sheldon Kennedy being locked down and secured in mental health hospitals, Sheldon Kennedy being in psych wards. People say “Sheldon's a hero” but I don't see it because I needed to do things to save my life”, says Kennedy.

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Before the abuse started in his life, Kennedy wanted to play hockey and hangout with his friends. He was just a kid that dreamt about scoring a goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“I kept this mask on the whole time [the abuse] was happening. Meanwhile I had all these dark thoughts in my head and drinking and getting into trouble. I did things I wasn't proud of and they kept piling up”, says Kennedy.

Students listened intently, their eyes glued to the stage as Kennedy spoke out about his experience with depression and suicide.

“I still have thoughts of suicide in my head. I know when I'm honest about it, it loses its power. When I'm not honest about it, it just keeps picking up speed. For me, I've had to accept the fact that this is probably something that I'm going to deal with for the rest of my life, and that's okay. It doesn't have to own me”, acknowledged Kennedy. 

Despite the trials and tribulations that Kennedy has gone through, he picked up the pieces to make life better not only for himself and for his family, but for kids and families in Canada and throughout the world.

“I went from feeling I was alone to receiving over 200,000 letters of stories from other men from around the world. They never had a platform to tell their story before because a lot of times we don't focus on boys and men”, says Kennedy.

In addition to his remarkable inspiration in speaking out about his abuse, Kennedy also founded The Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary, Alberta, which leads the way to offer hope and help for youth and families impacted by abuse.

A new Child Advocacy Centre is planned to open in Red Deer to create a unified space that will bring together the RCMP, Alberta Health Services, Child and Family Services and Mental Health and Addictions organizations to best meet the needs of those who have been abused.

Kennedy closed his presentation with a powerful personal statement.

“I don't think that there's a magic pill that deals with mental health. In my experience, the magic pill is to create an atmosphere and a culture within your organization and within your friends, that allows you to be honest”.

“At the end of the day, whatever incident - abuse or trauma or bullying - is going on in your life, it’s a lot more different than the impact from that incident. To me, that is what we're dealing with now. We're not dealing with the incident, we're dealing with the impact”.