The annual M.E. (Mental Health Edification) Day drew an impressive near capacity crowd to Humboldt’s Jubilee Hall on Monday, November 20. Speakers and booth presenters were on hand to support the mission of the day – to draw awareness to issues surrounding mental health and offer avenues for support.
The mental health wellness expo has been a fixture in area communities for several years. The first day was founded by Kim Hartl, who tragically lost her son Craig to suicide in 2018. Craig’s kind, concerned and always giving nature remained at the heart of the legacy project which has drawn guest speakers and area mental health and holistic practitioners to support the cause.
Hartl stepped to the mike as the evening’s first speaker. She spoke about the struggles that Craig had experienced through his later years with anxiety and a series of emotional setbacks, drawn by tragic circumstances of loss. In the wake of her son’s loss, Kim evolved a philosophy of building a “CRAIG” (an acronym for Creating Resilience and Awareness Inspired through Guidance) team.
Hartl presented the analogy of being a hockey goalie, Craig’s onetime beloved position. She asked the audience to imagine facing an opposing squad alone, without any teammates, facing players armed with 10 pucks. She likened that imagined experience to facing mental health challenges alone.
“Like the goalie in the hockey game, without your team, the chances of losing increase. But with a team behind you for support and guidance, your chances of winning increase. That is what M.E. Day is about; it’s about helping guide you in creating your very own Team Craig.”
Sticking with the goalie theme, MC Chris Hergott introduced keynote speaker Corey Hirsch, former NHL goaltender with the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. Hirsch, originally from Calgary, took his listeners through a harrowing story of his mental health challenges while maintaining a tough guy locker room façade through his days in the NHL. Eventually diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, Hirsch talked about staring down the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux during a career riddled with anxiety and negative voices working to shred him down.
At the height of his career, Hirsch’s goaltending led him to the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Sweden where a shootout encounter with Peter Forsberg that ended in a silver for Canada. The moment was even commemorated in Sweden with a postage stamp, Hirsch laughed.
Riddled with self-doubt and surrounded by a mentality that clearly labelled mental health issues as a weakness or liability, Hirsch came to the end of his rope. In a moment behind the wheel of a speeding sports car on a mountain road, Hirsch nearly ended his life. A split-second flash of uncertainty was all that saved his life on that crucial night.
Fearful for his future hockey career, Hirsch, through his team trainer, sought help, and he knew that he had to get his story out to the public – to commit himself to letting others know that mental health issues are real and need to be treated as any other malady. An article in The Players’ Tribune laid bare his experiences.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen – whether I was never going to be in the NHL or coach, but I knew I had to get my story out there,” confided Hirsch. “When this article came out, it had two million hits in under an hour. Here’s Corey Hirsch, a kid from Calgary who played just over 100 NHL games – that's like an article that Tiger Woods or LeBron James – that's the types of numbers those guys would get, and my article came out and hit just as hard.”
Throughout his narrative, Hirsch continually instilled the idea that his diagnosis helped him turn the corner and allowed him to access the help he needed. Though the struggles continued, including a bout with alcoholism after losing a friend to suicide, he acknowledged the presence of his own “team” of concerned family and friends who provided wrap-around interventions at critical moments – his own “CRAIG” team.
He said the three keys to having caring conversations with others who may be struggling with mental health are inviting a “tell me” attitude, listening without judgement, and sharing some of your own story. Three keys he shared in his own self-help regimen included taking time outs, practicing gratitude, and being of service, a key he takes to heart in supporting others with similar struggles. Hirsch also cautioned about the negative impact social media can have on youth and the public.
“There’s an animal we are not putting back in the bottle. Between 2007 and 2017 and the ages of 10 to 24, suicide rates went up 56 percent. Teach people to use social media for good, not as a weapon. It’s up to you how you want to use it.”
The evening wrapped up with Alexa Rathgaber talking about her walk across Canada for mental health. Discover Humboldt will catch up with Alexa’s mission in a future article.
To donate, to find out more, or to apply for M.E. Day to be hosted in your community, reach out to Speaking Through CRAIG Solutions at ME Day: Mental Health Edification Day.
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