A former NHL player and his mom are speaking out about their experiences in an effort to help raise funds for the Distress Centre Calgary as the centre is seeing rising calls amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In September 2020, suicide related calls to the Distress Centre jumped 69 per cent compared to the same time last year. That amounts to an average of 325 contacts (either calls, online chats or texts) a day.
Most calls have been related to anxiety depression, isolation and job worries.
Judy Wilkie said the centre was integral when she was struggling with mental health.
“It literally saved my life because all of a sudden with that validation and with that hope I was able to pivot and go in another direction,” she said.
She told Global News that she will never forget the one day in December of 1986 when she found out her son Bob Wilkie was involved in a bus crash near Swift Current, Saskatchewan. He was 17 years old at the time and playing hockey for the Swift Current Broncos
“We got a call saying there had been a bus accident and four kids have been killed,” Judy recalled on Thursday. “We didn’t know if Bob was one of them. There were hours not knowing if he was alive or not. And after, that Bob went through so much and I was trying to help him too.”
Bob survived the Swift Current Broncos crash but he paid a high price. The former NHL player faced mental health struggles as he went on to play for the Detroit Red Wings and the Philadelphia Flyers in the 90s. But Judy did too — since childhood – and kept them secret from her family until over a decade after the crash when she planned to end her life.
“I planned it. I wrote it out. I had a plan and I knew exactly what I was going to do. I wrote a letter to my family,” Judy said.
Judy’s family found the suicide note and made a call to the Distress Centre Calgary. She spoke with a counsellor who listened without judgement.
She said her recovery has been a long road but she credits that first call as the one that saved her life.
“Life is good. It was worth the work,” she said.
“It was very painful at the crisis moment but if I hadn’t done it I wouldn’t be alive today.”
Bob Wilkie has since founded his own company that promotes mental health in sports after recovering from his own struggles.
“[The] Distress Centre saved my mother’s life and I will forever be grateful for what they did,” Bob said. “It provides that safe place for people to feel validated and find their voice.”
Diane Jones Konihowski, director of fund development and communications at the Distress Centre Calgary, said staff at the centre are often able to de-escalate crises like Judy Wilkie’s.
The centre provides call, text and web chat options as well as free counselling sessions. It recently launched a new campaign in November asking donors to give a little bit more. Jones Konihowski said donations will help ensure they can keep offering those services in the future.
“Seven years ago when I came to the Distress Centre they would maybe have one call in a four hour shift. Now almost every call is at-risk. It’s an intense call. People are really suffering out there,” said Diane Jones Konihowski, .
“Our volunteers and staff are nipping the issue in the bud a lot sooner and we are seeing less calls to 911 and EMS,” Jones Konihowski said.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the Distress Centre or the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS), available 24/7, at 1-833-456-4566. For more information on suicide and to find help nearest you, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.
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