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Hockey star lends his name to campaign

Daniel Alfredsson was inspired to challenge the stigma around mental illness, attaching his high-profile name to a public awareness campaign

Globe and Mail Update

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OTTAWA - When Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson feels down, he goes for a long run. But he knows that doesn't work for everyone: not for his younger sister, Cecilia, for example, who is sometimes so paralyzed with anxiety that she can't eat, or talk.

Eight years ago, his sister, who lives in Sweden, was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, a mental condition characterized by chronic worry and anxiety, that often brings on headaches, breathing problems and full-blown panic attacks.

For almost a decade, Mr. Alfredsson's family has worked to help his sister, who is on disability, and living with her boyfriend and her young son. His parents get the groceries when needed, and take their grandson to school. At times, when Mr. Alfredsson phones from Ottawa, his sister sounds like her old self — bright and happy. Then, at other times, something happens — a trigger or a negative thought — and the illness takes over.

"She is scared," he says. She worries that the new therapy she is trying won't work, that some day, she won't be able to function well enough to stay home.

"I try to be supportive, [but] that's something I can do better as well."

His sister's case has inspired the star hockey player to challenge the stigma around mental illness, by attaching his high-profile name to a public awareness campaign by the Royal Ottawa Foundation of Mental Health. In the last four years, the campaign has raised about $10-million for mental-health research and programs for patients.

Society still holds to the belief that diseases such as depression and schizophrenia are dangerous or shameful, Mr. Alfredsson says, which stops people from coming forward to get treatment. In particular, he wants to target young people, to change their negative perceptions of mental illness.

"We all go through times when it seems like everything is against you. It seems like there is no way out of it," he says. "Most of us are able to come through with family that helps you, a support network. But some people can't. It becomes overwhelming for them. That's when they need help."

He hopes that by raising awareness more people will feel comfortable asking for help.

For more information about the Royal Ottawa Foundation campaign.

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In Breakdown, The Globe and Mail documents the enormous, unaddressed cost of mental illness to Canadian individuals, families and society. The series closes with a search for solutions.


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