The Ryerson Rams women’s hockey team hosted the University of Guelph Gryphons on Saturday, but it wasn’t just a regular game. This game meant a little bit more to the Rams — they did it for Daron.
For the second year in a row, the team held a “Do it for Daron” (DIFD) night to raise awareness of youth mental illness. Do it for Daron is a campaign that was started by Daron’s parents, Luke and Stephanie Richardson, after she committed suicide at age 14. Luke Richardson played 21 seasons in the NHL and is currently the coach of the AHL’s Binghamton Senators. Through the campaign, the Richardsons hope to break down the stigma surrounding youth mental illness and open up the dialogue between youth and parents.
In Canada, the youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), a reflection of the tragic impact that mental illness has on youth.
Emily Rose Galliani Pecchia, a forward on the team two years ago, said that in a perfect world she would like to think that the narrative around mental illness is improving, but points out that it’s not close to where it should be. The CMHA estimates about 1.5 million Canadian children and youth up to the age of 24 are dealing with mental illness and are not receiving the type of help they need.
Youth such as Daron and Galliani Pecchia alike are hit harder with the effects of mental illness because of the culture of sport they are immersed in. Galliani Pecchia said that young athletes like Daron have higher expectations from adults compared to the average young person. “I think (with) the expectation of being superhuman, (athletes) are afraid to speak out about the things that they are suffering from.”
Lisa Haley, who is head coach of the team, said that what she doesn’t want to see happen are people being embarrassed to talk about mental illness. She went on to say that events like DIFD night help with keeping the conversation on the subject of mental illness alive.
After the game, the team listened to Taylor Winnik, a star on W Network’s Hockey Wives, and the wife of Toronto Maple Leaf forward Daniel Winnik, share her personal struggles with mental illness. She also highlighted the fact that she did not let it define her.
Over the course of the night the hockey team raised upwards of $1,500 through raffle tickets and bake sales. Proceeds from the event will benefit DIFD at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Hospital.
Guelph won the game 5-2.
This article was published in the print edition of the Ryersonian on Sept. 27, 2016.