It often takes a while — by which I mean several years — for an event to become a fixture, a part of the landscape, something that is embedded in the fabric of our small towns. I suspect that’s a reason why so many events that are intended to be ongoing things fizzle and die; the organizers do not see immediate results in terms of attendance or acceptance, and rather than settle in for the long haul of building the event up, they move on to other things.
The Guns and Hoses first responders charity hockey game is a welcome exception, however. After only three matches in four years — the first was in January 2020 — the event is now a cherished tradition, as evidenced by the 600 people who crowded into Drylands Arena in Ashcroft on Jan. 21 to enjoy the game and all that went with it.
It was always intended as a way to raise funds for a great cause, as well as a means of chasing off the post-Christmas January blues, when nights are still long, days are still cold, and spring seems a long way off. This year, the great cause in question was the Honour Ranch near Ashcroft, intended as a place of healing for military personnel, veterans, police officers, first responders, and their families who are suffering the effects of operational stress injuries including anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Given recent events in our community, which saw the sudden and devastating loss of two people, anxiety and depression were probably not far from mind for many of those in attendance. It’s a reminder that we often have no idea what is truly going on in someone else’s life, and that we need, as a society, to be far more willing and able to talk about mental health issues, rather than dealing with them in silence.
That’s not an easy thing for many people to do. It has always been far easier, and more acceptable, to talk about physical illness than mental illness. Receive news that you have been diagnosed with diabetes, or cancer, or congestive heart failure, or gall bladder issues, and most people would not hesitate to tell their nearest and dearest, speak out about it, publicly seek help. Receive news that you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, however — or even suspect that might be the case — and most people’s reaction is to retreat into silence that is often tinged with shame.
And really, in some ways it’s hard to blame them. Announce to the world that you have diabetes, and you will be met with words of support, encouragement to get medical treatment, offers of whatever assistance you need. Announce to the world that you have depression, however, and the response is too often an embarrassed silence, a few stilted words, perhaps someone telling you that you’ll feel better if you get a good night’s sleep/eat better/smile more/get some fresh air and exercise.
No one would dream of telling someone with cancer that they’d be able to “get over it” if they just slept better, or ate more vegetables, or cheered up a bit, so why are mental health issues dealt with and dismissed in so facile — even cruel — a manner by so many? Perhaps it’s because while medical science has enabled us to understand a lot about what makes us physically unwell, mental unwellness (for lack of a better term) is much less understood, as are the ways to treat it. Not helping matters are those who persist in dismissing mental health issues as “weakness” on the part of those suffering from them, and pooh-pooh the mere idea of talking about “feelings”.
The Honour Ranch is a marvellous resource that will help many people. That the ranch and its aims are widely supported by a huge number of people in our area was evident on Saturday night. Here’s hoping that support extends not only to those who will benefit from the ranch and what it offers, but to everyone who is suffering — often in silence — from very real illnesses that we all need to talk about a lot more.