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Michael Landsberg, Mike Babcock and athletes tell Woodstock residents not to stay silent about mental illness

Azzura Lalani

By Azzura Lalani, The London Free Press

WOODSTOCK  - 

Hundreds joined with renowned sportscaster Michael Landsberg to share stories of struggles with mental illness, perseverance and hope at a community meeting Thursday night in Woodstock.

Landsberg, 58, famous athletes and other well-known Canadians spoke about mental illness and the need to reach out to others.

“The pain that I’m in, the struggle that I’m in, I can’t take it anymore,” Landsberg recalled thinking in 2008.

But the TSN personality and founder of the #SickNotWeak program to raise awareness of mental illness pushed through and said the important thing is to share your story with others.

“Sharing breeds sharing. Sharing breeds hope,” said Landsberg, who lives with depression and anxiety.

The close-knit town of 40,000 has seen a string of teen suicides since February. Five teens took their lives and at least 17 others attempted suicide – more than the last five years combined.

Woodstock made national headlines last week when hundreds of high school skipped class to demand more support for mental illness in the aftermath of the suicides.

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock spoke at the event. He told the crowd that if he and his wife knew one of their three children was suffering in silence “it would rip the heart out of our chests.”

Hockey players Rich Clune and Jake Muzzin also spoke, along with Olympian Clara Hughes and singer-songwriter Scott Helman, who performed and talked about his diagnosis with ADHD.

Clune recalled a childhood in a good family, playing sports, with lots of friends, but there was always something not right.

“I felt like there was a hole inside me and I didn’t know how to fill it,” he said. “I was suffering so bad on the inside.”

Young children, families, teenagers and retirees sat in the community centre, applauding, laughing and listening.

“I decided to come out tonight because I really want to support everyone that’s been affected by the students’ suicides,” said Kathryn Sears, 13. “Because it hasn’t just been the families that’s been affected. It’s been everyone in Woodstock.”

“I came here to support friends that have lost siblings and just to support community,” said Rhys Lanno, 18.

The event had support people for attendees to talk with if they needed. Landsberg said he hoped to hold the same event every year in Woodstock.