- Fan Zone
This year’s World Mental Health Day, taking place on October 10, comes at a time when our daily lives have been considerably disrupted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we deal with growing uncertainty and confronting change, it’s more critical than ever to recognize the signs of someone who may be struggling and learn the skills to help keep them safe.
Someone who knows a lot about about this topic is none other than Alouettes Head Coach Khari Jones. His involvement with mental health awareness and suicide prevention is no secret; He’s been tied with LivingWorks – an organization offering suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention training – since 2006. It all started as an acting gig, but recently turned into something much bigger.
“I did a training video for LivingWorks 14 years ago now. A few years back, I found out that they were still using that video. They got in touch with me recently and asked me to become an ambassador for them and I jumped on the opportunity. It’s such a great program.”
His experience with LivingWorks has now come full circle. He is the organization’s newest ambassador, working to promote LivingWorks Start.
“It’s a course that teaches you to recognize the signs when people are struggling and the steps you need to take to get someone the help they need,” he proudly explains.
For Jones, who resides in British Columbia in the off-season, suicide awareness is a cause that hits close to home.
“I’ve known people who have had mental health issues. I have not only friends but also family members that have contemplated either thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide or gone through with the act. It was an important thing for me to be a part of. But I think everybody has felt some form of depression or some problems in their life. I just want to do my best to try to get people the help that they need. I want to find ways for them to get that.”
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among youth between 15 and 24 years old. 1 And while men die from suicide a higher rate than women, they’re much less likely to go seek help than their female counterparts.
“It’s harder for men to open up,” admits Khari. “But I encourage it. I encourage it with my players. I encourage it with my friends. The more we can open up and just feel comfortable about discussing mental health, the better we’re all going to be.”
Last season, we saw him laugh, smile, jump, dance, and cry. One thing is certain, the man is not afraid to show emotion, but it hasn’t always been that way.
“When I was younger, I would tell myself that I had to keep my emotions in and that I shouldn’t show how I was feeling. I thought I needed to have a certain demeanor. I don’t know when it all changed, but I started telling myself that I could show who I was and be comfortable with it.”
In the Alouettes’ locker room, Jones encourages his players to break free from this harmful “man-up” mentality by allowing them to be open and vulnerable. And he leads by example.
“I’m a pretty emotional guy and I don’t mind being vulnerable with my players. And they respond well. They show it back. And it doesn’t mean that you’re not a competitor or that you’re soft if you speak about your emotions. It just means you’re a human being. It’s a part of all of us and it’s OK to let that part of you out. During the season, I talk to them every day. A lot is about football, but a lot is also about how they’re doing. I have them stand up and tell the rest of the team about themselves, about ups and downs…not related to football. I want to know who they are as people. It also gets them closer to the other players because they realize that there could be a guy right next to them who’s going through the same thing as them. It connects the players in a nice way.”
You’d have to be living under a rock if you didn’t realize the team had a certain “je-ne-sais-quoi” last season; Or was it an undeniable chemistry, something they had struggled to find and hold on to over the past few years? According to coach Jones, one of the keys to the team’s success on the field was in fact the chemistry they had built off the field.
“I think that when you know people on a more intimate level, when you know your teammates better, it makes you want to work harder for each other. It lets you know that that they’re in it for the same reasons that you’re in it for. I had an open-door policy, I wanted the guys to come in and let me know what was happening with them, good or bad. 2019 was a really special year for me to be able to put my stamp on it, and I hope to be able to do it for a long time.”
While our guys are lucky to have such a good role model and support system, the reality is much different for a lot of people struggling with hardships or mental health issues. Many don’t have a that kind of support system to turn to or are simply scared to reach out for help. “You just have to fight that fear and talk to someone about it,” says Jones. “It can be a friend or someone you don’t know. You have to take it out of that personal level and make sure that you find someone to talk to.”
In the same vein, Jones encourages every single one of us to look out for signs of distress in our loved ones. “If you know someone who is struggling, if you know someone who you think may not be right, don’t be afraid to talk to that person and ask them how they’re doing. Don’t be afraid to start those conversations. There are many different tools to help people overcome their mental health problems, LivingWorks Start is one of them. You don’t have to do it all yourself either.”
“You just have to let people know there’s going to be light at the end of the tunnel. And I mean, especially in these times when things don’t look so bright. But there is light out there, so I keep stressing that and I keep on shining my light on people as much as I can.”