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 challenges in coping with daily life or 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 but 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 various types of mental health issues. 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.

For the past 3 years, 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 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 hockey 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.

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 overemphasized 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 a unique role and typically command respect and carry a lot of responsibility. They are looked up to by the players. The dressing room is a special place where kids feel safe and listen to their coaches’ instructions.

This, coupled with the ‘experiential’ act of taping their stick (a hugely important and fun part of hockey) made this a unique way to reach out to this population of youth/young adults. It is different than many established “awareness” projects.

Hockey is Canada’s game and everyone is becoming more aware that professional players (in all sports) are not spared the challenges of mental health disorders. Why not let these kids know it is likely present in their own dressing room? I know it helped my boys feel supported, and everyone at the rink became aware of the green tape when the kids came out on the ice.

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.