Former NHL all-star Theo Fleury to discuss men’s mental health

Theo Fleury will be giving a one-day conference in Little Current on October 8. Shutterstock

LITTLE CURRENT – Men’s mental health is frequently not discussed as often as other aspects of the health ecosystem, something Mnaamodzawin Health Services is attempting to combat with next week’s one-day conference featuring Métis author and former NHL player Theo Fleury.

“Men are an underrepresented population in mental health. I find too that males don’t always acknowledge any type of mental health issues because it’s still seen with a stigma. Theo Fleury is kind of the poster child for men’s mental health,” said Mnaamodzawin Health Services’ allied health manager Rebecca Milne.

Men’s Mental Health Day is on Tuesday, October 8 at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre in Little Current. The one-day conference is offered free of charge and includes a lunch, though pre-registration is required.

Mr. Fleury (whose full first name is Theoren) is a former NHL all-star, a Stanley Cup winner and the holder of an Olympic gold medal. He grew up with parents who struggled with substance abuse and experienced sexual abuse during his adolescence.

These two major factors left serious scars on his life and he turned to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. In the midst of a flourishing hockey career, his substance abuse ultimately ended his long streak of athletic success and led to his retirement from the league.

His substance abuse and mental health deteriorated to a defining moment when Mr. Fleury found himself on the precipice of suicide. Rather than ending his life, Mr. Fleury vowed to heal from his past trauma and begin sharing his experience in the hopes that others may find the courage to admit to their own struggles if he could pave the way.

Mr. Fleury’s autobiography ‘Playing with Fire’ came out in October 2009, through which he admitted to his past sexual abuse at the hands of a former coach. That book has since been adapted into a one-man play and he has been featured in an HBO documentary.

He has since co-authored another book, ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake: Raw and Honest Reflections on Healing and Trauma,’ with therapist Kim Barthel.

“Mnaamodzawin seeks to bring both Indigenous health and traditional health to the five First Nations we serve on Manitoulin Island,” said Ms. Milne, who added that her agency’s last men’s mental health initiative was a few years back and involved travelling presentations to its five First Nation partners.

When she joined the agency recently she was asked to resurrect the event for one location, offering something that would draw men to wish to participate.

“Women, I find, are more apt to socialize (at conferences) than men. Theo was on my list, I reached out to find out if he was available and he said it would be perfect. I’ve had an overwhelming response,” said Ms. Milne.

This event is designed to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

“Everybody has some sort of issue, whether it’s something major or something minor. We want to show them to not be afraid to talk to people about it. Whether it’s just a friend or co-worker, or if it’s something more major and they need to see a counsellor, that’s completely fine—there’s nothing wrong with that. Everybody needs a little help now and then,” she said.

Ms. Milne said the young generation of current adolescents has been increasingly grasping the importance of seeing counsellors and talking about their own mental health. She has seen similar growing trends in elders who are coming out more for the same purpose.

“I find that it’s the category of men between age 30 and 50 that are very underrepresented,” she said, extending her encouragement that those individuals come out to the event.

A door prize will go to one lucky attendee and Mr. Fleury will have copies of his books available for sale and signing. Mnaamodzawin will also have booths with some of its own workers on hand, including its diabetes prevention workers and community health nurses. Mnaamodzwawin will also be bringing its mental health counselling team as a service for anyone who needs support due to the sometimes-difficult discussion topics.

“We’re just trying to promote the awareness of mental health. It’s actually in Mental Health Week that we’re hosting the event,” said Ms. Milne.

Anyone interested in taking part in the event is strongly encouraged to contact Mnaamodzawin Health Services at 705-368-2182 or visit its website at Mnaamodzawin.com to pre-register. More than 90 people have signed up for the conference as of last week.

“It’s been going really great. I’ve been really amazed at the numbers coming in,” said Ms. Milne.