VANCOUVER Kevin Bieksa is a tough guy, playing in a tough-guy league.
Be strong, keep a stiff upper lip: thats the mantra of so many sporting types. Talking about sensitive subjects, such as a serious illness like depression, happens rarely.
Bieksa, for one, has had enough of the silence in and out of the locker room. The Vancouver Canucks defenseman lost one of his best friends, Rick Rypien, last summer when the young forward committed suicide after a long battle with depression. So Bieksa is doing his part to help shed the keep-quiet stigma of mental illnesses.
One week ago Bieksa spear-headed the relaunch of mindcheck.ca, a website designed to bring more awareness and get people talking about mental illnesses. The site features various categories as well as a Reality Check quiz to help people identify symptoms.
Bieksa said it was important that he do this for Rypien, who wanted to help others battling the same illness he was.
What he always talked about doing was giving back, doing something that could help other kids who were in the same situation as him, sharing his story and struggles, he said. This is just kind of lending that ear, showing there are other people out there. Its kind of me carrying on Ricks legacy.
And it needed to be done. The stigma surrounding mental illness goes well beyond sports locker rooms. Millions suffer from depression, yet there is not nearly enough awareness, or talk, about it.
Chicago Blackhawks defenseman John Scott lost his close friend, enforcer Derek Boogaard, to an overdose last summer. Boogaard was suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy a degenerative brain disease that can cause dementia, depression and memory loss. Scott commended Bieksa for his work with the website.
Its so hidden, especially among athletes, Scott said of the stigma. We try to be so tough, to hide everything and not show feelings around the guys. Just to make it known that lots of people deal with it, its needed.
Scott admitted he was affected by Boogaards death.
Ive had nights where I was depressed; luckily I had my wife to talk to, he said. A lot of guys dont have someone to bounce feelings off of. Its good that its starting to come out into the open. Its good of Kevin to do that.
Response has been strong. Bieksa said he didnt have the exact numbers, but he estimated that mindcheck.ca gets more than 40,000 visitors a day now compared to the few hundred per day it got previously. Teammate Henrik Sedin wore a mindcheck.ca T-shirt at the All-Star festivities in Ottawa last weekend.
Bieksa has also received heartfelt messages on his Twitter account.
A lot of people are saying how much they appreciate it, that its a good idea. Some people are admitting theyre currently struggling with depression or anxiety and the website is a great help, he said. That means a lot to get those responses.
The mindcheck.ca website is bringing awareness to mental illness. It could save lives. Bieksa is doing it this for everyone but especially for his friend who never got the chance.
(Rypien) kind of became a brother to me. I got close with him and his family, he said. Its obviously the biggest loss Ive ever had to endure.