Canadian rugby 7s great Jen Kish opens up about her battle with mental illness
Former team captain reveals bipolar diagnosis on World Suicide Prevention Day
Jen Kish, former captain of Canada's rugby sevens team, is sharing her diagnosis of bipolar disorder so that others know they aren't alone in their battles.
The rugby star, who retired in 2018 after a stunning career that included a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, posted about her diagnosis on social media.
Kish revealed her long history of concussions — the majority of which she played through since they went undiagnosed, with people attributing many to "just getting your bell rung" — and health concerns, including memory loss, migraines, mood swings and suicidal ideation.
"I've been struggling with it for a really long time and not really knowing why until now," she said.
Sharing my struggle with the world in hopes it helps at least 1 person to either keep fighting through their struggles or seek help.<br><br>I would have never gotten the help I needed had <a href="https://twitter.com/shawneemusic?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@shawneemusic</a> not given me the courage, support & strength ❤️ <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SuicidePreventionDay?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SuicidePreventionDay</a> <a href="https://t.co/0ZHRzB93qD">pic.twitter.com/0ZHRzB93qD</a>—@jen_kish
Comments on her announcement show love and support for the athlete, along with messages of people sharing their own stories.
Kish chose to post on World Suicide Prevention Day, which happens every September 10 in the efforts to raise awareness that suicide can be prevented, because it's something she battles with despite loving her life.
Opening herself up to strangers who could hide behind digital screens was a scary decision. But Kish said her desire to use her story to help people ultimately triumphed.
"It was worth putting myself out there even a bit [if I could] help even a few people feel like they're not alone."
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For years, Kish said, those in her life – including sports professionals – neglected to acknowledge her struggle with mood changes. Instead they blamed exterior factors, saying she was just stressed, lacked coping skills, or needed to sleep or eat.
There's nothing worse, she said, than being told "you're fine" and nothing changing.
"When people look at me, they see this really strong, powerful, leader-type person that has it all put together really well," she said, noting that things like social media can mean only "the good parts" of one's life are shown to the world.
Her symptoms worsened, and her ability to mask them increased. Kish said she became wracked with guilt and confusion about why she was pushing people away.
With an earlier-than-anticipated retirement due to injury, the rugby star known for her fire and drive felt abandoned.
Just because you have a mental illness, it doesn't mean you're broken.- Jen Kish, Olympic bronze medallist
It was her partner who pushed her to get the help she needed, and enrolling in a concussion program put her down the path to diagnosis.
"I remember the moment that they said it, and I was relieved," she said, adding that shock soon followed with the understanding that this will be a life-long journey to minimize her symptoms.
Along with osteoarthritis throughout her body and a degenerative disc in her neck, she says each day is a mental and physical battle.
And while Kish can't know if her diagnosis is strictly from concussions, she knows it has "played a role."
The mentality of sacrificing anything, she said, is frightening. That's why she's encouraging younger athletes not to push through injuries, and to focus that "go-getter attitude" on recovery.
"You've got to take care of your body. You only have one body," she said.
Kish said she has reached out to Rugby Canada, which said it would help provide her a neural assessment.
'You are worth every breath you take'
Her message to those feeling "unworthy" is that life can be joyful, and mental illness is not who you are — it's just something you're dealing with.
"Just because you have a mental illness, it doesn't mean that you're broken. It just means that you have a bigger hill to climb in life," she said.
"You are worth every breath you take."
She encourages people to stay empathetic to themselves and to actively listen and reach out to others.
Resources for mental health across Canada are listed on the government website.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call the 24/7 Canada Suicide Prevention Service line at 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645 (from 4 pm to 12 am ET).
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