This week Bell held its annual “Let’s Talk” event in support of mental health issue awareness nationwide. However, this year was a little different. Memorial University’s Sea-Hawks athletes partnered with Bell to help educate people about mental health.

Bell donates five cents to mental health campaigns per text their customers send and five cents for every tweet that includes #BellLetsTalk as part of the yearly initiative. Earlier this year, Memorial University Sea-Hawks also joined Student Athlete Mental Health Initiative (SAMHI). SAMHI’s mission statement is to eliminate mental illness stigma in post-secondary sport, facilitate access to the resources needed to maintain and improve mental health, and advocate on behalf of student-athletes experiencing mental illness. The organization uses media campaigns to help combat the stigma and myths surrounding mental health issues.

When asked why the Sea-Hawks felt compelled to join the initiatives, Katherine Vanden Elzen of the women’s basketball team pointed to last year’s tragic passing of Jacob Ranton, a Memorial student and Sea-Hawks basketball player. “We wanted to do something to honor him, but also prevent something like this from happening again.” They settled on SAMHI because it seemed like a good fit. SAMHI was started by two athletes in Ontario, making the athlete connection particularly poignant.

On January 27, the Sea-Hawks organized a dodgeball tournament for Bell Let’s Talk among the athletes as a fun break and distraction from their schedules. Four different teams competed in a round robin, with players spanning all varsity sports. The athletes also made a trip to Signal Hill and took a photo to send to Bell.

“It’s another way to bring our community closer by having these little events; I think that’s important for the varsity community,” said Vanden Elzen. She added that engaging in outreach events such as Bell Let’s Talk gives athletes more opportunities to realize they have support and may be more likely to reach out as a result.

While these initiatives are immensely helpful to the university, local, and national communities, Vanden Elzen noted that, “We also have to think about what to do in the future. Everyone is supportive today, but we have to see what happens tomorrow…we need to be there for the rest of the year.” The Sea-Hawks hope that with the help of SAMHI, students will continue to learn and promote mental health year round.

Since MUN Sea-Hawks’ participation in these initiatives is still in the infancy stage, there is currently no way for non-student athletes to get involved directly. However, Vanden Elzen mentioned campus mental health organization MUNMinds as a potential starting point for those interested in mental health awareness. “Currently the focus is to educate people first, educate ourselves, and then educate other athletes,” said Vanden Elzen. It is clear that right now the primary objective is to raise awareness and to learn more about mental health and how it impacts athletes. Helping end the stigma associated with mental health and emphasizing that student athletes face the same pressures as other students should go a long way in creating a support network and allowing students to feel comfortable getting help they need.

For more on the Bell Let’s Talk partnership, SAMHI, and other Sea-Hawks community outreach initiatives, check out http://www.goseahawks.ca/community/ or the Memorial University Sea~Hawks Facebook page.

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