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Kirkland's 'St. Patrick' uses ball hockey to reach out to those with mental health issues

Every Tuesday, Kirkland's Sportplex hosts a ball hockey game for people struggling with mental health issues.

Patrick Merrigan started the weekly ball hockey games 16 years ago

Patrick Merrigan coaches and refs the weekly ball hockey game. (Craig Desson/CBC)

In the gymnasium of the Kirkland Sports Complex, players are choosing their teammates for a game of ball hockey. 

"Who hasn't been chosen?" asks Patrick Merrigan, an organizer and the ref of the afternoon match. 

The players are all young adults, some of them being treated for mental health problems like chronic depression. 

The hockey match is a chance for these players to get some exercise and connect with each other.

"They all feel better, because exercise is good for your mental health," says Merrigan.

The Kirkland Sports Complex doesn't charge the ball hockey team for use of its gymnasium. (Craig Desson/CBC)

But he admits that sometimes it takes some persuasion to get them to come out and play.

"You'll hear from players, 'Patrick, I don't want to go...' and once they start playing afterwards they feel great."

Eric Lahmann, who says he takes medication to help himself feel more stable, recently joined the team and has played five games so far. 

After an afternoon of ball hockey, he says, "I feel good. I feel rejuvenated."

Merrigan has been organizing these matches for the last 16 years. He's a community worker with Community  Perspective in Mental Health. The group provides help to people with severe mental health problems. 

"I want people to feel good about life," he says. 

The charity receives some of its funding from West Island Community Shares. CBC is supporting the charity for its annual "Light Up Our Community" holiday fundraiser, which runs until Dec. 10.

Members of the public will sometimes come join the weekly game. (Craig Desson/CBC)

'We refer to him as St. Patrick'

Merrigan, who's been volunteering for the last 40 years, is known in the West Island for the extra hours he puts in, giving one-on-one support to clients. 

 "We do a lot of extra hours. I don't count them." 

Merrigan's boss at Community Perspective, David Ronai calls him a fantastic colleague. 

Merrigan worked in radio before before starting a career as a community worker. (Craig Desson/CBC)

"We refer to him as St. Patrick at the office because he actually had thought about going into the priesthood in his younger years and he decided, thankfully for us, to go into community work." 

Vincent Laren joined the team this year. He decribes Merrigan as a "really fun, nice and friendly" coach.

Merrigan says when it comes to people living with serious mental health issues, "I want them to live in dignity."

He's known in the West Island as "Saint Patrick." Every week he plays ball hockey with young adults suffering from mental health issues. 1:45

Over the next few weeks CBC Montreal is holding several events, including its annual Sing-In, to raise money for West Island Community Shares. WICS's goal for this year is $1.3 million. Find out more here.

About the Author

Craig Desson

Journalist

Craig Desson is a journalist at CBC Montreal. He was born in Montreal and has lived in Ottawa, Toronto, Germany and Sierra Leone. Craig has also worked for CBC Radio.