About Jesse

Jesse Anders Short-Gershman was born on July 22, 1992 in Victoria, British Columbia. Jesse was a “gifted child” and was highly accomplished academically throughout his life. By the age of 20 he was working in Silicon Valley at Google. He was an excellent golfer and swimmer and cared deeply about his family and the environment.

Jesse had another side to him. He was out of balance emotionally. Having a high IQ does not spare you from mental health challenges nor does it grant you an automatic pass to a happy and peaceful life.

He fought against his obsessive-compulsive disorder, was bullied in elementary and middle school for being a “braniac” and, as a young adult, tried hard to fit in at a large company.

He was starting to make some progress and gain insight towards recovery and eventually his challenges overwhelmed him and on October 29th, 2014, at the age of 22, Jesse took his own life. Jesse left behind three siblings, and a family who loved and accepted him for who he was.

ABOUT BUDDY CHECK

LET’S DO A BUDDY CHECK ON MENTAL HEALTH

I decided that we would never stop talking about Jesse, who he was, his challenges, and how so many people struggle in so many ways every single day with their mental health. Shortly after his death, in the process of carrying on with our lives and trying to keep things “normal”, Jesse’s two younger brothers, Max and Zak, had hockey practices and games and the idea came up to have the kids on their teams tape their stickblades with green tape (the color representing mental health) for their games.

At that time, and ever since, I have been involved with coaching Max and Zak’s hockey teams.

Prior to their games on the last weekend of October, I have been doing a brief pre-game dressing room chat about who Jesse was and what happened to him. I talk about how a team is like a family, the importance of looking out for and supporting each other, and how common it is for youth and young adults to experience all kinds of challenges just getting through a day, a game, a relationship, and numerous other situations. I explain how mental health issues are as normal as a sprained ankle, a broken arm, or a teammate getting mononucleosis or having asthma. I explain how everything is treatable. I attempt to destigmatize it and tell the kids to reach out for help if they want to. I ask them to be accepting of mental illness, to know that many of them are amongst teammates who already, or someday will, struggle with it.

The idea of doing a ‘Buddy Check’ is simply a reminder to keep an eye on each other and ourselves. It is not about suicide (which isn’t always related to a mental health problem). It’s a message that I hope will spread throughout the sport community and beyond. If we look out for each other and do a ‘Buddy Check’ with our friends, teammates, family members and even with ourselves, I believe we can make a difference in each other’s lives. Our youth are the ones who can change the future. We need to give them the right message and tools to do this.

As a physician, I have no problem discussing sensitive subjects and I am keenly aware of how pervasive these issues are in this age group. I believe speaking openly and destigmatizing mental health imbalance cannot be emphasized enough and the time is right for ‘Buddy Check’ to help us support one another in a unique way.

It is time to push the gas pedal a little more in order to drive the conversation forward.

COACHES CONNECTING WITH KIDS

Coaches have an important role and they are respected by the players. We have a unique opportunity to pass on information beyond the skills of the game. We can teach them life skills that will benefit them and their community for years to come. This opportunity makes the Buddy Check approach unique amongst the many “awareness” projects our children are exposed to.

Everyone is becoming more aware that professional athletes are not spared the challenges of mental health disorders. Why not let these kids know it is likely present in their own teammates? I know it helped my boys feel supported and help them through a difficult time in their lives.

WHY WE ALL NEED A BUDDY CHECK

After three years of doing this, I came to the realization that this process could be a unique way to reach out on a larger scale – beyond my boys’ teams. Maybe more coaches could speak to their teams. Why just my boys’ teams? Maybe increased awareness of mental health issues could come from more teams using green stick tape and hearing a brief talk before one of their games. Maybe this could become a very important discussion once a year at the end of October by using Canada’s game to bring a voice to it. I came to the realization that this process could be a unique way to reach out on a larger scale. Well, I hope it can. I have started Buddy Check for Jesse to give it a life of its own.

The purposes of the Buddy Check for Jesse Society are:

  1. To honor the memory of Jesse Short-Gershman who died by suicide on October 29, 2014;
  2. To educate and empower Youth Leaders (e.g. Coaches) to pass on important mental health messages to their players and recognize the important role that Youth Leaders play in the lives of our youth;
  3. To destigmatize mental illness diagnoses, normalize the language surrounding mental health and mental illness and expose the myths around mental health challenges;
  4. To help players understand that there is help and support available when it comes to their mental health and that most mental illnesses are treatable and should not be feared;
  5. To educate players and arm them with accurate information about mental health and mental illness so that they feel confident in providing support to a teammate, friend, family member, etc. when they see someone struggling and in need of emotional support;
  6. To give players the confidence to reach out to a teammate, Youth Leader, manager, parent or health care professional to open a discussion on their personal mental health; and
  7. To raise awareness that 100% of the population will be touched by mental illness, whether they experience it themselves or are touched by it through a family member, friend, co-worker, etc. and help people understand what they can do to either receive or give support.