News / Halifax

Sharing her story: SMU athlete opens up about her suicide attempt, ending stigma

Hannah Wallace is using her own experience to help fellow athletes and students feel comfortable talking about their own mental health.

Hannah Wallace poses for a photo last week.

Jeff Harper/Metro

Hannah Wallace poses for a photo last week.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on Atlantic University Sport athletes talking about their struggles with mental health as Bell Let’s Talk Day approaches on Jan. 25. A second profile will appear later this week. Be advised the below story includes some graphic details.

On April 25, 2014, Hannah Wallace grabbed a bottle full of prescription sleeping pills and wrote a note to apologize to her family and friends.

“It was very impulsive,” Wallace recalls. “I was at peace with it. I came to the realization I was done, and I felt it would be better for everyone if I was gone.”

Wallace’s parents found her in their Herring Cove home and rushed her to hospital. Rather than a life taken, her story is now about giving back to others.

“To feel at peace with ending your own life…it’s terrifying that your mind can take you there,” she says.

Wallace’s journey with depression took hold in the fall of 2013. She was a full-time commerce student and also a member of the Saint Mary’s Huskies women’s rugby team, a commitment involving weekday morning practices on top of games and road trips. She became sad, overwhelmed and withdrawn, often sleeping 14 hours a day.

“Small things like answering emails and showing up on time to classes seemed so big, so impossible,” says Wallace, originally from New Glasgow. “There is a helplessness once depression seeps in. You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you don’t know how to get out. I just got tired of fighting it.”

Wallace, 23, had always found more than competition in rugby. Teammates became friends, and the sport’s inclusive nature became more of an identity than an activity.

“Some of my best friends are on this team, and I stay close with some of the veterans who have moved on,” she says. “It’s such a good environment – everyone here can feel automatically accepted and there is a place for everyone.”

In January 2016, the Saint Mary’s rugby team dealt with the sudden loss of a teammate who died due to mental illness. Her death resonated with Wallace.

“I was once in that place. I understood where she was, and it broke my heart that she passed away. It could’ve been me. I never wanted to see anything like this happen again.”

Last fall, Wallace was a team leader with the Here for Peers mentorship program to help varsity athletes succeed in academics and sport. She works with the Elephant in the Room campaign, which is open to all students, staff and faculty and aims to end the stigma associated with mental illness. She’s also part of the Student Athlete Mental Health Initiative, which is dedicated to helping the mental health of student athletes across the country.

Wallace is also involved in Bell Let’s Talk Day on Jan. 25. A handful of close friends and teammates have approached her to share their stories. She says it can be comforting to speak with someone who understands.

“If I took a hard tackle on the field, they’d send me to physiotherapy. It should be no different for an illness to your mind. Learning to understand and talk about these things is a big step,” she said.

“It’s hard to open up and share my story, but it shouldn’t be such a struggle or scary to tell people how you feel inside. We need to make the journey easier for everyone and end the stigma.”

How to get help: If you’re in crisis, go to the nearest hospital, call 911, or call the province’s crisis line at 1-888-429-8167 (toll free), available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you’re looking for programs and services, or information about mental health, contact the Canadian Mental Health Association at 1-877-466-6606 (toll free).

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