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Mom of former Saskatchewan Huskie who died calls for more mental health awareness
Published Thursday, May 28, 2020 5:14PM CST Last Updated Thursday, May 28, 2020 8:08PM CST
SASKATOON -- Twenty-year-old Matthew Baraniuk was found dead in his home in Saskatoon on May 20.
As of Thursday, the coroner had yet to determine an exact cause of death, but his mother Shari believes it was directly related to her son’s struggles with mental health.
“Definitely yes. To me that was the cause,” she said.
Baraniuk says her son, who dressed for eight games for the Saskatchewan Huskies football team in 2017-2018, grew up with ADHD and dealt with anxiety and depression.
She believes a stigma and lack of understanding remains in regard to mental health, and that combined with the stress and pressure of playing competitive sports created a difficult mental load for her son to carry.
“He was a big strong athlete. They’re not supposed to talk about their weaknesses, or what they perceive are their weaknesses,” she said, adding that she believes concussions from playing sports may have hurt his mental health.
“I remember before a football game I talked to one of his coaches and I just said, ‘Oh how do you think the game’s going to go today?’ and the coach turned to me and said ‘Well it all depends on your son.’ and so he’s getting that kind of pressure put on him every single game, every single day.”
Baraniuk says her son saw sports psychologists, but they often weren’t able to help “because they didn’t really understand him and his challenges.”
She’s created a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising awareness and funds to help with mental health research and support.
“What I’m looking for is more of that mentorship and support groups where people who are all struggling with mental health can listen and talk to each other because then you get that common understanding, you get acceptance.”
Faith Bodnar with the Canadian Mental Health Association says those groups exist in Saskatoon, adding “there’s an obvious value in being around people who share some of the same kinds of struggles that you do.”
Bodnar says when it comes to high-performance athletes, there needs to be more support.
“We really need to look at, number one, what youth support looks like, but also look at what the kind of pressures that are placed on those young people, and in this case young men.”
And she believes the COVID-19 pandemic may be forcing mental health and wellbeing to the forefront.
“I think that there’s a ground-swell of momentum being created around mental health right now that we need to seize the moment from,” she said.
“The world is pulling together in the research on the COVID virus,” said Baraniuk. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful if the world would pull together on mental health research?”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available. Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645) and Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868) offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.