New research is highlighting the positive impact of Talk Today, a mental health awareness and education program that supports the mental health of hockey players and reduces the risk of suicide across the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
The report, Supporting athlete mental health: An evaluation of Talk Today, showed overwhelming support for the program among OHL participants. Specifically, 83 per cent said they would recommend the program to others, while nearly 90 per cent of team staff said they’re likely to change the way they behave in response to someone with a mental health issue.
The research conducted by McGill University’s faculty of education also indicated 82 per cent of participants agreed the program was a valuable professional/personal development experience, and 90 per cent of staff as well as 78 per cent of athletes were satisfied with the program.
Elite athletes face immense pressures, including balancing academic demands and performing in their chosen sport. Launched in partnership with the OHL and Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario Division in 2014, Talk Today includes mental health awareness and suicide prevention training for athletes, direct connections to mental health supports when necessary, and game days in each community intended to reduce stigma. The program has grown to include more than 50 CMHAs across Canada supporting junior hockey teams, post-secondary sports programs, minor sports organizations, and more.
“Over the years, the growth of Talk Today across Canada has been a clear indication of its effectiveness in supporting elite young athletes, and now through this evaluation, we have qualitative results that back our efforts,” said CMHA Ontario CEO Camille Quenneville. “The overwhelming approval of this program among athletes and staff alike highlights the hard work of our branch staff who have established strong, supportive relationships with local clubs. This work is only beginning and we believe the best is yet to come.”
“Talk Today did a great job of reducing mental health stigma and starting conversations in our dressing room through my OHL career,” said former five-year Guelph Storm defenceman Garrett McFadden. “This program helped to foster a safe team culture where players felt supported and empowered to speak up about any challenges they may be facing.”
As part of the evaluation, McGill received input from all 20 OHL teams, including more than 100 players and support staff who completed online questionnaires with some participants doing telephone interviews.
“Through this evaluation, our research team sought to understand participants’ reactions to the program, their acquisition and application of knowledge gained, outcomes related to participation, and participants’ recommendations,” said McGill faculty of education associate dean research & innovation Nancy Heath. “Our results showed participants unequivocally expressed the value and importance of participating in the program, high levels of satisfaction, retention of the knowledge acquired, and a strong likelihood to change their behaviours toward people with mental health issues. This report shows CMHA Ontario has been highly successful in developing a program that provides essential information and resources to young hockey players and other elite athletes dealing with various aspects of mental health.”
This month marks one year since many sports leagues paused due to COVID-19. Despite play being on hold, the Talk Today partnership with junior hockey leagues and other sports organizations across Canada has continued to provide mental health support to elite young athletes facing challenges amid the uncertainty.
“We came to recognize how important Talk Today was to our young athletes,” said OHL commissioner David Branch. “Given the research that McGill University has provided it clearly articulates how important the Talk Today program is to our players and underscores what a great partner CMHA is to the OHL. As a founding partner of the Talk Today program, it’s rewarding to see how CMHA has expanded this important initiative not only across the Canadian Hockey League, but into other leagues and organizations nationally. We look forward to the continued development of this program.”
- Each February is Talk Today month across the Canadian Hockey League. This year, mental health awareness efforts during Talk Today month were focused online. During February, #TalkToday on Twitter earned 6.4 million impressions.
- Since Talk Today’s inception, more than 5,000 participants have received mental health awareness and suicide prevention training.
About Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario
Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario is a not-for-profit, charitable organization. We work to improve the lives of all Ontarians through leadership, collaboration and continual pursuit of excellence in community-based mental health and addictions services. Our vision is a society that embraces and invests in the mental health of all people. We are a trusted advisor to government, contributing to health systems development through policy formulation and recommendations that promote positive mental health. Our 28 local CMHA branches, together with community-based mental health and addictions service providers across the province, serve approximately 500,000 Ontarians each year.
About the Ontario Hockey League
The Ontario Hockey League is a proud member of the Canadian Hockey League which is the world’s largest development hockey league with 60 teams in nine Canadian provinces and four American states. In addition to the OHL, the CHL is made up of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. The CHL supplies more players to the National Hockey League and U Sports than any other league. For more information, visit www.ontariohockeyleague.com.
About the McGill University Faculty of Education
Globally renowned for academic and research excellence, McGill’s Faculty of Education has been advancing human development since 1857 and continues to make meaningful positive impacts in today’s society. With award-winning leadership, McGill Education prides itself on innovation and discovery in the fields of teaching and learning, educational and counselling psychology, and kinesiology and sport science. Current research priorities include education for mental health and well-being, science of physical activity for health and performance, as well as digital technologies for teaching, learning, and social change. The Faculty offers a variety of on-campus undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs, in-community Indigenous education, and international seminars.