Buddy Check for Jesse – Turning a family tragedy into help for others

By Stu Gershman, Island Parent Magazine, Feb 2019 “Tweens and Teens” Edition

Buddy Check For Jesse, launched October 2018, provided green tape–the colour for mental health–to hundreds of teams throughout B.C. for players to tape their sticks in support of mental health.

The campaign is in honour of my son, Jesse Anders Short-Gershman, 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 kind, funny, an excellent golfer, swimmer, pia­nist, and cared deeply about his family and the environment.

He also had mental health challenges. On October 29, 2014, at the age of 22, Jesse died by suicide.

The idea to share a mental health mes­sage began early after his death and grew from my initial desire to support his two younger brothers and their hockey team­mates. Three years later Buddy Check for Jesse was established.

The goal of Buddy Check For Jesse is to honour Jesse’s memory by recognising and normalising how common and pervasive it is for our youth to experience struggles with coping on a daily basis.

Buddy Check For Jesse was developed for Hockey Coaches to deliver to their teams. As a coach myself, I believe that the coaches of “Canada’ s Game” are in a unique position to share a positive message to help raise awareness that mental health issues can affect anyone.

Coaches are respected by their players and the players need to know that their coaches care about them. The idea is to create an environment where teammates support one another and are more aware of potential mental health issues so they are prepared to step in with support when they see a teammate, friend, themselves, or a family member struggling. The more coaches and parents are aware of the prevalence of youth mental health issues, the better chance that our kids can receive the help and support they deserve.

My hope is that Buddy Check for Jesse will:

  • Help destigmatize a mental health diagnosis
  • Debunk some myths around mental health challenges
  • Allow players to understand that there is help available and that the majority of mental illnesses are treatable
  • Help players realize that their own team­mates may be struggling themselves or have a close family member or friend who is
  • Give players the confidence to someday reach out to a trusted resource, such as a teammate, coach, manager, parent or, health care professional to open a discussion
  • Plant a seed that may someday grow and lead to someone reaching out to someone for help, or to help someone else
  • Raise awareness that everyone will be touched by mental health issues in their lifetime

Buddy Check for Jesse also provided post­ers, wallet cards and coaches notes to pro­mote this message with their teams. With the help of family and friends The Buddy Check message also included participation of teams from across Canada.

The feedback from kids, parents, and the overall community has been humbling and overwhelmingly positive. The hope is that this first launch of Buddy Check will help drive the conversation around how com­mon mental health issues are in youth, to encourage them to reach out for help, and to understand that resources and treatment is available-just like there is for the majority of medical conditions. I am extremely grateful for the help re­ceived from my partners (BC Hockey, Sub­urbia Studios, CBI Health Group, SportsArt.ca, Moa Media), my family at home, and across the country. I am looking forward to the growth and expansion of Buddy Check For Jesse over the next year. The program will peak across Canada annually every last weekend of October.