Mental health and hockey – growing awareness one player at a time

Rebecca Leslie is playing in her first season with the Calgary Inferno, though the connection is already strong between the organization’s annual awareness campaign on mental health and Rebecca’s drive to make a difference.

This is the fourth season the Inferno have hosted a mental health awareness game called ‘Start the Spark’, in support of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre (SKCAC). This year the game will take place against the Toronto Furies on Saturday, January 12 at 6:30 pm at WinSport’s Arena A.

The team sports purple jerseys that are auctioned off after the game as a fundraiser and reaches out to young fans and players about mental health.

Rebecca Leslie during a DIFD promotion in high school

Rebecca Leslie has spent a good portion of her hockey career talking about mental health. She is one of the players who started the Do It For Daron (DIFD) Foundation eight years ago after losing a close friend and teammate, Daron Richardson, to suicide at only 14 years of age.

“We decided to put purple ribbons in our hair and purple tape on our sticks. We later came up with the idea of helmet stickers in the form of a Purple Heart, Daron’s favourite color, and things basically snowballed from there,” remarks Rebecca on how the movement got started.

The team wanted to make something out of the tragedy and erase the stigma around mental health. The movement has grown across Canada and even internationally.

“We couldn’t have possibly imagined the extent to which DIFD would grow. Mental health and suicide quickly became a topic of conversation in households throughout my hometown of Ottawa,” added Rebecca. “I have seen first hand the impact that mental health can have on a family and a community. I feel that it is very important that we talk about mental health. It’s important that family, friends, coaches and teammates feel comfortable talking about mental health.”

“Daron was a very dear friend of mine, when she passed away I was devastated and from that day forward I vowed to myself that I would do everything I could to keep the conversation going.”

Game details:

Through this initiative, youth from across the city will have an opportunity to attend the game with their families, friends and peers to celebrate their mental health. Fans under 18 get in free with an advanced ticket request to [email protected] (limited quantity available). Regular tickets can be purchased online in advance or at the door for $15. The Inferno will also auction a signed goalie helmet at the game. Proceeds from the ticket sales, jersey and the auction will go toward the SKCAC.