Many Canadian youth grow up with the dream of playing in the National Hockey League. Few of us actually achieve that dream and instead are left to cheer on those that do. Rick Rypien was one of those who made it to the highest ranks of professional hockey playing for both the Vancouver Canucks and the Manitoba Moose back when the Moose were an affiliate of the Canucks.
And yet, despite making it to the NHL and making the big sums of money that come with it, Rick Rypien battled depression. When he signed with the Winnipeg Jets in the summer of 2011, as the team was returning to Winnipeg, it should have been a highlight in the career of Rypien. And yet, the depression that Rypien suffered continued and culminated in him taking his life in August of that year.
For the Winnipeg Jets and its owners True North, this was both shocking and devastating news. Appropriately, the Jets held a night of tribute for Rypien but then decided to go further. Through the True North Youth Foundation, Project 11 (the number Rypien wore with the Moose), was created. The goal of the Project 11 is to bring virtual and in-person lessons on mental health to students in Manitoba as part of the overall curriculum. In particular, the program is designed to improve mental health awareness and to create positive coping strategies for students.
On Monday morning of this week, as part of our government’s announcement of $3 million of funding for mental health support, I was pleased to announce a new partnership with Project 11. The government of Manitoba is committing $621,000 over three years to help reach an additional 5,000 students with this program as it grows throughout the province. I was pleased to be joined at the announcement by Suzi Friesen and Dwayne Green of the True North Youth Foundation to thank them for the work they are doing with Project 11.
This and other announcements that were made on Monday are partly a response to the VIRGO report on mental health and addictions which I was pleased to commission and receive when I was Minister of Health. It is part of the investments we continue to make as a government on mental health and addictions support.
The challenges of mental health do not discriminate. They can impact a professional hockey player as much as they can impact someone struggling to find work and make ends meet. The story of Rick Rypien is a reminder that appearances can be deceiving.
While the death of Rick Rypien was tragic, through the support of his family, True North and the community at large, his legacy is inspiring. Many lives are being impacted through Project 11 and each of those involved it its work should be proud of how they honour the life of Rick Rypien while improving the lives of todays young people.