News / Ottawa

Pro golfer to Carleton: let's talk

Pro golfer Andrew Jensen shared his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts at Carleton University Monday, ahead of Bell Let's Talk day on Wednesday.

Pro golfer Andrew Jensen addresses a crowd at Carleton University on Monday. The Ottawa-born athlete has attempted suicide three times, and is now a mental health ambassador for the Bell Let's Talk campaign.

Emma Jackson/Metro

Pro golfer Andrew Jensen addresses a crowd at Carleton University on Monday. The Ottawa-born athlete has attempted suicide three times, and is now a mental health ambassador for the Bell Let's Talk campaign.

We all have pain, and we should be able to talk about it – even if that pain comes from your brain.

That’s according to professional golfer Andrew Jensen, who spoke at Carleton University on Monday ahead of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign this Wednesday.

The Ottawa-born athlete has struggled with depression since he was about 13, and first attempted suicide when he was 16.

Years later, as a professional golfer, his suicidal thoughts returned. His self-worth was tied up in his golfing success, he said, and he wasn’t playing well.

In 2011, Jensen tried to overdose on his medication. Several weeks later, he tried to jump off a 12-storey building.

Luckily, he didn’t.

Today, he relays his story across Canada as an ambassador for the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, which raises money and awareness about mental health illnesses and the stigma that can come with them.

This Wednesday, Bell Canada will donate $0.05 for every tweet or share using #BellLetsTalk, as well as every call or text from Bell customers.

Going public about his depression was far from easy, Jensen said. Suddenly he was thrown into the public eye, and not for his golf success.

“I’m the golfer who tried to kill himself,” he said.

The stigma he felt was largely self-imposed.

“I was worrying about what people would think of me,” he said. I feared his friends would walk on eggshells around him, or that sponsors would consider him a liability. He wondered how he would date with something like that on his “social resume.”

When Jensen withdrew halfway through a competition because he was relapsing into suicidal thoughts, he worried that fans wouldn’t understand.

“If I had rolled an ankle and withdrew, people would get it,” he said.

But the assumption that people would shame or shun him was “so, so, so false,” Jensen said.

Honesty, it turned out, was ultimately the best policy – for him and for the people around him.

By being vulnerable and being honest, Jensen said, he was able to accept his illness for what it was, and to feel comfortable telling his friends and family how he’s feeling.

And he learned to own his illness as something as legitimate as any physical ailment.

“We all hurt, we all have pain, we all struggle,” Jensen said. “So why should one in five people in this room … be treated differently?”

He said his treatment – which includes anti-depressants, daily meditation, therapy and a healthy lifestyle – has helped him learn to be “mindful.” Mindful of his own struggle, for sure, but also of the pain that others may be facing, as well.

He said that mindfulness has led him to be more empathetic, and to understand that vulnerability is not a bad thing.

“When I’m vulnerable with people, people want to be vulnerable with me,” he said.

That just continues the cycle of honest communication that will ultimately break down the walls that still surround mental health, Jensen said.

Jensen’s lecture coincides with a new mental health training program for managers, faculty and staff at Carleton, said event organizer Amanda Dobbie.

She said managers will receive the training this February so they are equipped to help their employees deal with mental health challenges.

Dobbie said she wanted to connect what Carleton is doing to the national conversation.

Let’s talk

Money talks this Wednesday as Bell Canada prepares to donate $0.05 for every tweet, text or share in support of mental health programs.

Using #BellLetsTalk, the annual campaign has raised $23.6 million from social media shares since it launched in 2010. Bell has also donated another $50 million to mental health programs since then.

The company hopes to hit $100 million by 2020.

So far 450,000 Canadians have received support through a Let’s Talk program.

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