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Clara Hughes, Mental Health Advocate

Clara Hughes, is one of only 5 Olympians to win medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, and the only one to win multiple medals in both. She competes in both cycling and speed skating. This year, at 39, she competed in her 5th Olympic games in road cycling. Aside from her notable achievement in sports, she is an active ambassador for Right To Play, a Canadian – based organization that promotes sports for children in third world countries. She has also been honoured as a member of the Order of Canada. In the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, she served as Canada’s flag bearer.

When you read about Clara and see the many pictures of her perfect smile, she seems to be have it all together, and be living a happy life. She is a hero and role model. But this not the whole truth- Clara revealed that after winning her first 2 medals in 1996, she fell into a terrible depression. Not knowing why, she barely wanted to ride her bike and cried all the time. She put on weight and slept most of the day. She began to feel guilty and did not know how to stop. Regardless of all her achievements, Clara suffered like 3 million other Canadians do. It took both her boyfriend and her coach to finally encourage her to seek help.

In 2009, she agreed to become the national spokesperson for Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk campaign which is trying to remove the stigma of depression and other mental health issues. Clara’s story is particularly important, because it reminds us that anyone can suffer from depression, and it is not a sign of weakness. Many people blame themselves and try to work harder to “get over it”. They tell no one and suffer alone, afraid they will be judged. In fact, a 2006 study called mental illness the No.1 cause of workplace disability. So if you think you are suffering from depression, do not blame yourself or ignore resources that are out there to help you. Go see your doctor, or contact your EFAP. There is help out there, you only need to ask.

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