by Lauren Edwards
“Silence is suicide’s biggest ally,” says long-time TSN reporter Michael Landsberg, over the phone from one of the stops of his #SickNotWeak Canadian tour. He travels across the country with the focus of spreading his message about depression, “the invisible disease” he has been suffering from for 20 years.
Landsberg founded #SickNotWeak in 2009 as a community platform that recognizes depression’s looming voice and encourages more people to open up about their experiences to help end its stigma. One of the weapons depression uses to induce suffering are the negative connotations associated with having a mental illness.
“Dialogue within the community is how you disarm the stigma,” states Landsberg.
In 2013, he released Darkness and Hope: Depression, Sports, and Me, a memoir that featured elite athletes like Olympian Clara Hughes, Stanley Cup winner Stéphane Richer and World Series winner Darryl Strawberry speaking about their struggles within the sports industry. It would later receive a nomination for a Canadian Screen Award for Best History or Biography Documentary.
Moving from film to stage, Landsberg says that “if you’re a decent speaker, doing it face-to-face with people is way more powerful than any other format. I think every individual benefits from it, from hearing someone talk about it. I know when I speak to a group of a couple hundred people, at least one person will walk out of there and see themselves differently. That it will change their life.”
Landsberg exudes confidence as he speaks eloquently about depression. Committing time to talk about his personal battle, he explains, “It works both ways. When people feel like they’re understood, because I know what’s been going on in their brain, I feel understood as well.”
There is no doubt a bigger stigma with men about mental illness. A contributing factor could be young boys conditioned that they are not allowed to cry and should instead “man up.”
According to Statistics Canada’s 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey on Mental Health, about one in five Canadians have experienced depressive thoughts at some point in their lives. Statistically, women are more likely to experience depression than men – however, “Men will suffer in silence because they think it is a weakness, and do not want to show it,” Landsberg explains.
#SickNotWeak could also benefit parents, especially those faced with their children opening up to them about suicidal thoughts. However, the reality nowadays is that many kids may not feel comfortable going to their parents for help. “It would be a little easier if parents mentioned it first,” Landsberg suggests. With a reduced stigma, perhaps the next generation will feel they can ask for help without fear. “The way we get to that position is from talking about it, from desensitizing people,” says Landsberg, “This is not a weakness, not self-inflicted. This is an illness, like anything else.”
If you would like to know more, check out sicknotweak.com and @SickNotWeak on Twitter.
Michael Landsberg speaks at Congregation Beth Israel on February 13, in support of #SickNotWeak.#sicknotweak, depression, mental health, michael landsberg, sports, suicide prevention