Hughes: Talking about depression prompted even more public response than winning Olympic medals
Winning six Olympic medals – in both the winter and summer games no less – prompted an outpouring of support like none other.
But according to Canadian athlete Clara Hughes, who became the spokesperson for Bell’s “Let’s Talk” campaign one year ago, the feedback she's received from speaking out about mental illness and depression has topped even that.
“Five times of being an Olympian, I felt the response of an Olympics coming back to Canada and how many people connected to what I did in sport, winter and summer, and in the last year the response of this campaign, it trumps anything I ever felt at all the Olympics combined.”
Hughes, who has competed both as a speedskater and a cyclist and is one of only four people in history to win medals in both versions of the games, says the overwhelming response supports the statistics that one in five Canadians is suffering from a mental illness.
“We are all connected to somebody, if it’s not us (going through it ourselves). It’s something that is an issue for every single person . . . and I’m really grateful that I have a chance to be a part of this again.”
Hughes revealed last year that she became depressed after winning her first two Olympic medals in Atlanta in 1996. She says despite achieving such a feat, she struggled to get out of bed every day and was crying a lot. She knew something was wrong but felt like she should be able to fix it herself.
It wasn’t until she consulted with a team doctor about her symptoms that she realized she was depressed and would need help in overcoming it.
Looking back, she realizes she should have reached out earlier and hopes that by sharing her story, other people will be encouraged to do so as well. Hughes says she’s since heard from many people who also want to talk about what they are facing, and who want advice on where they can seek help.
“I wish I was an expert. I wish I had the answers for everybody,” says the 39-year-old. “But I realized in the last year the greatest thing I could do is listen and I carry all those stories in my heart and it gives me so much strength to know that the more I can share, the more I can be a part of this narrative we’re creating.”
She hopes that the campaign not only encourages people to speak out, but also prompts the government to take another look at the mental health system and how there are many people struggling and not getting the proper help.
“I really believe that the more people that talk about this, the louder the voice collectively we’re going to have and the impact is going to be just enormous.”
As well as participating in “Let’s Talk” Day, Hughes is also featured in the candid documentary “Darkness and Hope: Depression, Sports and Me,” alongside TSN’s Michael Landsberg and sports stars Stéphane Richer and Darryl Strawberry. The program airs tonight at 7 p.m. ET on CTV.
Hughes and Landsberg will also be participating in a live chat on CTV.ca and the CTV iPad app from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET to help further the discussion.
Hughes says she is looking forward to hearing from people.
“My heart is open so please share what you have. I know this is going to be really profound . . . I hope there’s something for each Canadian -- who is suffering or who has struggled -- to connect to.”
Hughes is currently hard at work training to make the Olympic team for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England.
She says she has become more mindful in her training and recognizes that she can’t just look after her physical health, but must also take care of her mental health as well.
“It definitely has to be a change in the way I go about my life and recognizing things that might trigger emotions in me that might lead to a dark place.”
She adds she also relies on her network of support -- the people in her life that she reaches out to -- who know the warning signs and when to offer a helping hand.
“Talking about it is the best thing . . . I need to make sure that I remain open and make sure I reach out before I get to a place where I can’t reach out, that I’ve taken the steps I need to make sure (I have) a healthy mind and a healthy spirit.”
About Sheri Block
Sheri Block has been covering entertainment for CTV.ca since 2008. In addition to covering Will and Kate’s Royal Wedding in London, Sheri’s highlights have included going on tour with “Canadian Idol,” being a stand-in on “Canada’s Next Top Model” and meeting Colin Farrell at the Toronto International Film Festival.Follow her on Twitter!