Ron Ellis on depression and ABI

Ron_Ellis_HeadshotBy G. Ian Bowles

Working for the Ontario government, I get some great opportunities to connect my interests. On  January 22nd, as part of our Employment Wellness program, we had some sessions on mental health awareness. Our guest speaker was Ron Ellis, a former Toronto Maple Leaf and director, public affairs at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Now I’m not the biggest hockey fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation. The subject was depression, and it crossed into the effects of brain injury several times.

Mr. Ellis played with the Leafs for 11 seasons in the late ’60 and early ’70s; he was one of the key players when they won the Stanley Cup in 1967. He suffered from clinical depression after his career, in the ’90s, and now speaks about the importance of early diagnosis. As part of his presentation he talked about the serious effect of brain injuries and concussions on players.

Several of his points were appropriate for both depression and the brain injuries that can be their cause. Although Ellis was diagnosed with clinical depression, he said that the injuries he suffered as a player could have compounded his illness. He went through a number of symptoms: from being unable to concentrate to withdrawing from friends and family, to paranoia and anxiety:  together these are flags that indicate a potential problem.  Recognizing all that, he encouraged diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.

Two of the biggest reasons that people are unwilling to fully come to terms with a problem, according to Ellis are: (a) lack of knowledge, and (b) stigma. In his day, the state of medical treatment was not nearly what it is today: so he went through years of difficulty and will probably be on medications the rest of his life. Early diagnosis could have spared him a lot of that trouble. Beyond that, we know now that “real men” do get depressed, and we do suffer from brain injuries. It is not enough, sometimes, to just “work harder and longer.” Sometimes we need help.

Today, we better understand what can result from a brain injury, even years after the incident. Part of what we try to do at BIST is to connect people with that information.

Stigma is still an issue: but as more people become aware of the spectrum of effects that a brain injury can have on one’s life, we are hoping that the stigma is decreasing. Again, that is a function of knowledge and information. And the effect of Mr. Ellis’ presentation is exactly that: to increase awareness of the many effects of brain injuries and parallel issues, which in turn helps to decrease the stigma, and spurs people to seek assistance.

G. Ian Bowles is a volunteer with BIST.

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