Photo: Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca, The Canadian Press
When two star players from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were approached about speaking on men’s mental health, the response was immediate.
Attendance is free, with registration available through the event site linked above.
“I’ve never been in this kind of forum,” Lawrence said, “but I’ve shared my mental health journey and stuff, to try to help people that way.”
Lawrence met with his sports psychologist earlier this week to make sure he’d be giving accurate and helpful advice. He said that her impact has been significant for him, on and off the field.
“She’s definitely someone that keeps me focused,” he said. “Makes sure I have everything that I need and she’s always available.
“It’s anything in life, just to make sure that I’m able to perform at a high level no matter what’s going on around me, no matter what kind of season I’m having. Just keeps me performing at a high level.”
Evans was approached about participating by the Ticats’ director of community partnerships and former player Courtney Stephen, along with Amanda Heeren, the Ticats’ coordinator of community partnerships. He quickly realized there was one common mental health thread that connects us all and agreed to take part.
“I guess kind of everybody went through something during Covid and I feel like I can relate to a lot of people on that,” Evans said.
“I feel like it would be beneficial for people who think athletes are kind of untouchable or that we don’t have these same issues that “regular everyday people” do too. I just hope that I can help somebody see that everybody deals with the same issues.”
Over the last few years, conversations like the ones that Lawrence and Evans will be a part of have become more common. There’s always work to be done when it comes to breaking down the stigmas that surround addressing mental health issues, but there has been progress. Athletes have played a big part in that. NBA players Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan helped move the conversation along and closer to home, the recently retired Michael Reilly was very open on his experiences with mental health as well.
“I don’t think by me just speaking on it, it’s going to fix the issue, but I think I can play a part in trying to help it,” Evans said.
“It’s something that…back in the day (people said things like), ‘You don’t cry here, man, you don’t talk about your feelings.’ You’re doing something that’s lesser, you’re “being a girl” or whatever. And back in the day, nobody thought anything of it and nobody said anything.
“These are issues that people have had to deal with forever. I think athletes…have started to realize really what our platforms can do.
“I’m glad that I’m getting this opportunity to speak on it. I think it’s something that a lot of guys have talked about in the locker room and have spoken to me about, so I feel like I’m a little bit wise on it. And I just hope I can help people.
The benefits of being able to speak openly about our mental health are obvious and those conversations are becoming more common, whether it’s with friends, colleagues or employers. One thing that Evans said he really appreciated this past season was when the Ticats arranged for a sports psychologist to speak with the team over Zoom.
“It was great. We got a full two hours to just talk about everything. It was something that really helped us as a team,” he said.
“I think it really helped us not just football-wise, but I think it helped us understand each other as men and figure out how to get along with each other.
“I know we have a first-class organization because, I mean that happened on a Day 2 practice.”
The players were in their positional group meetings and all tuned into the call. Evans said that sometimes in these sorts of meetings, you can see players tuning out or getting distracted. He remembered being impressed by the group’s focus that day.
“It’s something that pertains to everybody, right? Everybody has a brain, everybody goes through things. So it was a really, really great experience.”
For the stigma that’s been chipped away at, there are still obstacles in front of us as we try to move forward with mental health awareness. Lawrence said accessibility is one of those challenges.
“I think just making it more resourceful. It’s super expensive…if you don’t have the proper channels,” he said. “it’s really expensive to do everything that you need to do. I feel like making it more accessible for everyone (is the next step).”
For athletes like Lawrence and Evans, there can be benefits to their on-field performance that come through working with a sports psychologist, but again, Evans said that speaks more to the general public and getting help where they need it too.
“Even if it really didn’t benefit your play and you’re still playing at the same level, I think (it benefits) your life and your relationships,” Evans said. “Your relationship with your kids, your wife, your family. I think that would all benefit. That’s your own life, so that can only be beneficial for you.”