Aldergrove Kodiaks head coach and general manager Rick Harkins (centre) is the first to introduce the 'Breakout' program

‘Breakout’ supports athletes’ mental health

"Breakout" has been formally adopted by the Pacific Junior Hockey League and Aldergrove Kodiaks are the first team to sign on

A new support program has launched in B.C. that is aimed at providing professional and peer-based assistance with mental health issues in sports.

“Breakout” has been formally adopted by the Pacific Junior Hockey League and the Aldergrove Kodiaks are the first junior B hockey team to sign on with the program. The program will roll out to the other nine PJHL clubs in coming weeks.

Breakout’s founder, Sean Dooley, had officially launched the program last month with the Nelson Leafs, where he also serves as assistant coach. On Feb. 10, Dooley launched the program in Aldergrove at a meeting with the full Kodiaks team and management at Aldergrove Arena.

Dooley said Breakout was being brought to Aldergrove first at the invitation of Kodiaks assistant coach Trevin Sewell, who found that it dovetailed perfectly with his own goal of providing the team’s mostly teenaged players with assistance and resources for issues faced by young athletes.

Both Dooley and Sewell had suffered from depression and had self-medicated with alcohol during their younger playing days.

“You’re told, you gotta be tough, suck it up,” said Dooley. “And there’s a stigma around mental health, but we’re saying it’s OK to ask for help. Because if I had not asked for help I probably wouldn’t have survived.”

Dooley observed that often young players are living away from home while they pursue their athletic goals, or in some cases may not have the family support they need in their homes. Or the person needing help might be a player’s friend, sibling or even parents. Or the problem could be related to injuries such as concussions.

Breakout’s model is “building lines of communication… and awareness.”

This is accomplished through providing ongoing speakers and workshops on mental health issues, as well as providing clinical counsellors and concussions education.

The services are provided in conjunction with the B.C. provincial health services authority’s “MindCheck” program services to teens and young adults (see website: mindcheck.ca).

Sewell said that as a young junior hockey player — he’s now 28 — he wished he had this kind of support then.

“I didn’t understand my emotions… I hid my feelings, and substance abuse led me to a dark place, near death, before I saw the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sewell.

“Breakout is all confidential, and helps you understand why you’re feeling like you do and what to do about it.”

Sewell noted that junior B hockey used to be disparagingly referred to as “jungle B” because of the scraps and fights that were once endemic to the game but the league has diligently moved to get rid of these excesses and to provide a positive “development” atmosphere for athletes to advance in their careers.

“Breakout is not a social event, it’s survival,” added Dooley. “And it might save your life.”

Breakout is on social media, via twitter @breakout.mh and on Facebook via “Breakout” or send an email to breakout.mh@outlook.com.