Even though nearly everyone’s been there, it still takes a whole lot of courage to hit pause and admit you need help.
Now imagine how much more difficult taking a much-needed break might be if people were counting on you to represent the entire nation and you were in the public eye. Next, imagine you’re not even 18 years old.
That’s exactly what happened to Elizabeth Manley, former competitive figure skater and Olympic medallist, who took a break from her training at the age of 17 to focus on dealing with her anxiety and depression. And that was back in the 1980s, long before we had things like World Mental Health Day (coming up Oct. 10) that helped make the conversation about mental health more mainstream.
“I spent a lot of years really being open about mental health and what I went through,” said Manley. “To be honest, I was a pioneer, since I was really the first athlete to come out and speak about this. It was right after the ’88 Olympics, so we’re talking over 30 years ago.”
Manley, who is now working as a certified life coach in Ottawa, is receiving the Courage to Speak award from Carleton University’s Mental Health and Well-Being Research and Training Hub this week. She’ll also speak about the epidemic of pandemic-related challenges she sees people facing at a talk for the university’s Psychology Mental Health Day (Oct. 7), as well as her own lived experience.
Many of us only recall Manley’s triumphs. She won silver at both the ’88 Calgary Olympics and that same year’s World Figure Skating Championships. She also won the Canadian Figure Skating Championships three times. Her life achievements have earned her the Order of Canada as well as an induction into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
These were all hard-won battles for Manley, though, who while in training for the ’88 Olympics was dealing with such severe anxiety and depression that she shut down and had to stop training in Lake Placid. When she went home to Ottawa, her hair was falling out, she had gained significant weight as a result of water retention and was diagnosed with clinical depression, all of which is detailed in her 1990 autobiography “…….