'I'm not perfect' — Olympic hero Silken Laumann speaks on mental illness

‘I’m not perfect’ — Olympic hero Silken Laumann speaks on mental illness

Four-time Olympian and former rowing world champion Silken Laumann told an audience of 500 at the Caboto Club Saturday night that she has battled mental illness in the past and that she will have to continue that fight.

“I’m here in front of you tonight to tell you I have a mental illness, and it’s nothing to be afraid of — it’s part of the journey of being a human being,” said the two-time Canadian Female Athlete of the Year, best known for her remarkable comeback from severe injuries to win a medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

Laumann was the feature guest speaker at Stigma Enigma’s fourth annual Mingle for Mental Health fundraiser for Maryvale.

Laumann, now an inspirational speaker, mental health advocate and bestselling author, spoke of her personal journey battling an eating disorder, cutting herself with razors to “release” the mental pain and trying to control outbursts of rage.

“I’d love to say I overcame anxiety and depression, but you know, it’s something you battle on and off through life,” she said. Counselling, medication and a healthy dose of self-love all help, she said.

Laumann was preparing for Barcelona when she suffered severe leg injuries in a rowing accident 10 weeks before the Olympics. The reigning world champion ignored doctors who said her rowing days were over, but she went on to win bronze after five operations and three weeks in hospitals followed by intense therapy and training. She was honoured as Canada’s flag bearer during the closing ceremonies and returned home from Spain a national hero.

“Belief is so incredibly powerful … that belief it’ll get better,” she said of her mental health journey. “I’m not perfect, but I’m enough.”

Laumann was given a standing ovation at the conclusion of her presentation Saturday.

Canadian Olympian Silken Laumann signs an oar that Jim Adam brought to the Caboto Club, Nov. 11, 2017, where the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame rower spoke on mental health awareness as part of a Stigma Enigma fundraiser for Maryvale. Dan Janisse / Windsor Star

Mingle for Mental Health is one of the largest annual fundraisers for Maryvale, a children’s mental health centre serving Windsor and Essex County.

More than $127,000 was raised at last year’s Stigma Enigma, when 950 in attendance listened to guest speaker Margaret Trudeau, mother of Canada’s current prime minister Justin and wife of former prime minister Pierre Elliott, describe her journey back to mental health. Those funds translated into 150 local teens and youngsters getting quicker help to deal with their mental health issues, said Maryvale executive director Connie Martin.

Approximately 800 local students are treated annually at Maryvale, where those between 13 and 17 years old are helped in dealing with serious emotional, psychological and mental distress. With the money raised Saturday night, Martin said an extra psychologist will be able to see about 70 additional children and youth.

Fuelled by the pressures of social media in today’s fast-paced, demanding world, Martin said there’s a big and growing local demand for counselling services for teenagers. The victims of bullying used to be able to find refuge returning home at the end of the school day, but Martin said there’s no such escape anymore in the age of electronic devices that young people now even take to bed.

“There’s a lack of boundaries now — it’s all constant and it is everywhere,” she said.

For youth in crisis, Martin describes as “very strong” the mental health supports in Windsor-Essex. She said that for serious instances, Maryvale decided about two years ago there would no longer be a waiting list for someone needing to be seen by a professional.

“It felt so awful … so we kind of opened the doors,” she said. “If they’re in real serious crisis and they need help, they will get help.”

But where funding like Stigma Enigma’s helps, said Martin, is in getting additional resources to help “the kids not quite in crisis who (currently) have to wait.”

Stigma Enigma was founded by Windsor family physician Patrick Smith to raise local awareness and provide more help for children and adolescents struggling with mental health issues.



Canadian Olympian Silken Laumann is shown at the Caboto Club, Nov. 11, 2017, where the former world champion rower spoke on mental health awareness as part of Stigma Enigma’s fundraiser for Maryvale. Dan Janisse / Windsor Star

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