As an NHL hockey legend, Sheldon Kennedy was an impressive playmaker, but his work off the ice as a tireless advocate for mental health has made him truly heroic.
Courageously, he charged his Major Junior Hockey coach with sexual assault for the abuse he suffered over a five-year period as a teenager. Through this disclosure, and the important work he continues to do, Sheldon has become an inspiration to millions of abuse survivors around the world.
"It is well beyond the time to open up and face the issue of child abuse and its deep implications on youth mental health," says Sheldon. "It is time to ensure children, youth and families get the support they need to bring perpetrators to justice and end child abuse."
Sheldon is a beacon of hope for children and adult survivors of sexual abuse. Children who suffer abuse are 30 per cent less likely to graduate from high school and 26 times more likely to be homeless. As adults, they may struggle with drugs, alcohol, depression or other mental health issues, and are twice as likely to be arrested.
"The science is clear that the impact of trauma from all forms of abuse and neglect profoundly changes the developing brain," Sheldon says. "Our priority must change to early intervention and prevention."
In 2013, Sheldon founded the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre to help children, youth and families impacted by abuse. Many victims who receive support from the Sheldon Kennedy Centre also deal with issues of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and actions, depression, addictions and other complex mental health issues.
Sheldon bravely shares his story because he knows it has the power to transform lives by healing not only himself, but others. Sheldon is a leader in youth mental well-being in Canada and continues to blaze trails in Alberta, rural and First Nations communities.