Acadia athlete finds inspiration in his mental-health struggles to help others

Garrett McFadden is a university hockey player doing his best to improve the lives of people living with mental illness.

The second-year defenceman with the Acadia Axemen in Wolfville, N.S., is looking to spread a mental-health movement that began in Ontario to Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

The 22-year-old launched McFadden’s Movement in 2016 when he was playing in the Ontario Hockey League with the Guelph Storm.

“I pitched the idea of setting up a non-profit that would generate awareness for mental health,” said McFadden. “It’s just kind of taken off from there.”

Garrett McFadden says there were times when he struggled with his own mental health when he played junior hockey. (Peter Oleskevich)

To date, McFadden’s Movement has raised over $46,000 for mental-health resources and has partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association.

McFadden has spoken to dozens of minor hockey organizations and school groups. He’s looking to do the same in Nova Scotia. Part of his messaging is to let kids know there is help for anyone who is struggling with mental illness.

McFadden was just 15 when he left home to play for Guelph. He saw very little ice time that season and never played in the playoffs while his team won the league championship. The next year, he had to work through injuries that also impacted his mental well-being.

“There have been a ton of challenges and a lot of changes I’ve had to make,” said McFadden. “We do struggle sometimes. While kids might think older players have it all figured out, in reality they have their problems too.”

One of McFadden’s own challenges was the loss of a close family friend, Wes Cameron, who died by suicide in 2011. One of the resources partially funded by McFadden’s Movement is WES for Youth Online, a free online counselling service created in Cameron’s memory.

“That was something that really affected my family a lot,” said McFadden. “It was at that point we realized mental health is obviously something we need to take a lot more seriously.”

Garrett McFadden has spoken to many minor hockey organizations and school groups about mental illness. (McFadden’s Movement)

As a junior hockey player in Ontario, McFadden was twice named the league’s humanitarian of the year, making him the only player in league history to be honoured two times.

“It’s important for people to realize how to look out for yourself and know when to get help when you need it,” said McFadden.

“You need to know the right people that you can reach out to in order to take advantage of resources to improve your mental health.”

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