On November 12, 2018, just two days after winning a Bronze Medal at the CCAA National Cross Country Running Championships, Matthew Hope of Red Deer College (RDC) Athletics, posted an Instagram photo of his win with the following caption:
"Every race I ran this XC season I wore a yellow ribbon to represent suicide awareness. It's meaningful to me as somebody who has lost friends to suicide and has dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts myself. I will continue to speak about my experiences in hopes of helping people who are in similar situations that I have been. To everybody who's struggling with mental health; know I will continue to fight along your side. Together, by changing the dialogue around mental health we can prevent suicide and improve mental health. I think about you guys every day. This is for you."
Hope, who was born and raised in Red Deer, now attends RDC and is a member of their Cross Country and Indoor Track teams. After attending the University of Alberta, Hope made the decision to change his program and move back home to study Secondary Education. Now, he is focused on his education, his running, and most recently — advocating for mental health.
Mental health is just as important as physical health
For Hope, seeing the obvious disparity between physical health and mental health has been eye-opening. "If someone you knew had the flu, had a broken arm, or had an issue with their physical health you wouldn't see much hesitation," said Hope.
"Mental health (resources) on the other hand, are underutilized."
As someone who has personal experience dealing with their mental health, Hope found it difficult to find and seek help. Part of his feelings existed due to the stigma, but the larger issue seemed to be the lac of awareness. At the end of the day, Hope didn't know what it felt like to deal with depression and anxiety, and he didn't know what options were available to overcome these struggles.
Seeking help — even though it's difficult
Hope admitted that initially, there was a bit of resistance to follow through and seek help due to the fear of not knowing whether or not he could get better.
"If I was seeing it (mental health) the same way I was seeing my physical health, I wouldn't have had that much hesitation," said Hope. "I would have just gone in and dealt with it."
However, among the fear, Hope also worried how friends and family would react and whether or not this would impact his ability to continue to compete as an athlete or study as a student.
"There was a part of me that didn't want to get better because I knew how much work it was going to be," said Hope.
Reaching out for help is never easy. However, Hope is a firm believer that "there is nothing too small to be dealt with and nothing too large to overcome."
Since taking the difficult but brave steps to tackle his mental health struggles head on, Hope has found tools and keys to help him stay on top of his anxieties.
Finding what works for you — and only you
Every mental health journey is unique, and not every tool is meant for every individual, but finding what works for you can make the future seem much less overwhelming.
For Hope, being a student-athlete is a valuable tool for his mental health. "For me, my sport is my release from the stress of the day and my way to get away from it all."
Among the many resources that do exist, Hope has found success in many different avenues, including therapy. However, his biggest personal growth has been through his own learning.
"Reading about mental health has given me tools to stay present," said Hope. "I had to tell myself that this is a real tangible thing you're going through, so stop questioning whether or not you should help it."
"Everybody has a different path, but for me, I had to read," said Hope.
Continue the talk
Campaigns like Make Some Noise exist to erase the stigma that exists, and to bring awareness to how many people are affected by their mental health. Athletes across the ACAC are encouraged to help themselves and help others discover their resources and to be unafraid to vocalize their personal struggles. Hope sees the power of Make Some Noise as he feels talking about mental health is key.
"If you stop talking about it, the stigma will return," said Hope. "Every year, there are a new batch of kids and students who are experiencing issues with their mental health that need this information."
His advice to anyone who is experiencing something similar to what he has gone through is to ensure them that their struggles matter.
"There is nothing that you're going through that is too small to be dealt with," said Hope. "It doesn't matter if someone is dealing with something "seemingly worse" — if you are suffering, you deserve help."
It's not always easy to reach out to someone you know, which is why it is important to be aware of your options when it comes to mental health. If you are in search of support, visit CMHA to learn more about your local branch, or call these numbers:
Make Some Noise for Mental Health Information:
Hashtags: #MakeSomeNoise for #mentalhealth
Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference