On June 24th, 2018, thousands of Canadians from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador will take part in the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Ride Don’t Hide, the largest mental health bike ride in Canada. This year in Waterloo Wellington, Wilfrid Laurier University Athletics will be lending their support to the ride.
Melissa Pare is the coordinator of the I Move My Mind program at WLU. Here’s what she has to say about mental health and Ride Don’t Hide:
The term mental health is still attached to a negative stigma of having a problem. The truth of the matter is, mental health is not isolated to mental illness. Mental health is a dynamic component in the reality of wellness—the combination of our physical, mental, social, spiritual, and intellectual health. Each component of wellness is interconnected, and changes in one area can influence the other areas of wellness.
As a student-athlete at Wilfrid Laurier University, mental health and wellness have been a significant part of my life in the Laurier community. In my first year on the women’s basketball team, I suffered an eight-month concussion and was consumed with overwhelming emotions of frustration and sadness. I felt isolated from my teammates and questioned if I would ever return to the sport. Thankfully, I had the support of my school. I reached out to the Laurier staff for help, and they incorporated a united front to support me in all aspects of my recovery—both physically and mentally, as well as in the classroom.
I think it is important to know that athletes can struggle with mental health, and it should never be considered a weakness. Sometimes, our competitive drive or ideas of toughness can get in the way of that. I’ve learned that mental toughness has nothing to do with one’s mental health.
I think it is important to know that athletes can struggle with mental health, and it should never be considered a weakness.
In 2015, Laurier’s Department of Athletics and Recreation started a program called I Move My Mood (IMMM), a partnership with the Student Wellness Centre to use physical activity as a supplement to ongoing counselling sessions. Students with mild to moderate anxiety and depression diagnoses are referred by their counsellor to connect with a peer volunteer to begin integrating physical activity into their daily lives. After my experiences with mental health, I became involved as the IMMM Coordinator.
Over the past two years in my position, I have witnessed dramatic improvements in wellness through physical activity. To date, the program has benefitted over 100 students and continues to grow. Students are thriving in building social connections, developing time management skills, and using physical activity as a coping strategy to manage stress. As someone who has been through the difficulties of poor mental health, it is extremely rewarding to be a part of the positive experiences developed through the program.
I see the same spirit in Ride Don’t Hide as I see in the work I do at Laurier. It’s about healthy physical activity, as well as that important social element. Most of all, it’s a worthy reminder: no-one should face these challenges alone.