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D.I.F.D. night 'a wonderful opportunity' for dialogue

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Since his daughter Daron took her life last November, Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson has become a spokesman for raising awareness for mental health issues. The topic will be at the forefront Saturday during the first Do It For Daron Mental Health Awareness Night at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Tieja MacLaughlin/Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).

Awareness often starts with a conversation.

It's that type of dialogue the first Do It For Daron (D.I.F.D.) Youth Mental Health Awareness Night hopes to inspire Saturday, when the Philadelphia Flyers visit Scotiabank Place to take on the Ottawa Senators. But this is a night about much more than hockey.

"It's an opportunity to have difficult conversations, become more aware of mental health and how it affects people's daily lives," said Dr. Raj Bhatla, the chief of psychiatry for the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group. "In general, people have a very difficult time talking about any mental health issue, including suicide. So the more people can talk about it and not feel alone, the better it is."

The subject of teen suicide, in particular, gained new prominence last November, when 14-year-old Daron Richardson — the youngest daughter of Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson — took her own life. D.I.F.D. is a grassroots movement that has gained steam since then, bringing to light a topic that, for many, retains a stigma that needs to be broken down.

"It's not just in our culture right now to speak about it, unfortunately, so would like to change that," said Richardson, whose family hopes Daron's death can serve as a lightning rod in that area. "(We want) to make it so that it's not a fearful thing to say and talk about in schools and with your doctors, coaches or anybody that you feel comfortable with, so you don't feel alone.

"That's probably the biggest pain that we have to deal with, to know that our daughter felt alone. That's a difficult thing to swallow. So to help change that is what we would like to do. Hopefully, we can do something in our community that's really positive and other communities can use that as a bit of a template, take it to their community and just let it go and grow."

While Richardson and his wife, Stephanie, openly talked about many teenage issues with Daron and her older sister, Morgan, the subject of mental health issues never arose. It is a conversation the Richardsons now wish they'd had themselves, and one they want to encourage other parents to initiate with their children.

"There is a stigma about not just mental health, but the work suicide," he said. "I think we've come to surpass that fear because we've been forced to talk about it as part of our lives now. I wish we did talk about it before, but we just didn't think it was there because Daron didn't let us know there were some deeper issues that were inside her and she didn't feel she could talk to us."

In that situation, Dr. Bhatla said, "you really want people who are struggling to know they're not alone."

"We're at that place now with mental health, where it's time for people to opening have conversations about that," he added. "And that's what (D.I.F.D. night) is really all about, it's about awareness and it's about creating a comfort level for people who want to go get help."

As part of D.I.F.D., mental health service providers will have booths set up to offer advice and information. In addition, many of Daron and Morgan's hockey teammates will be selling purple bracelets and T-shirts throughout the night at Scotiabank Place, with proceeds going to the Daron Fund at the Royal Ottawa.

In addition, for $25, fans can purchase 'mystery pucks,' which are autographed by Senators and Flyers players. Five of the pucks are unsigned, with anyone who purchases one of them getting the opportunity to meet the Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and Flyers counterpart Mike Richards after the game.

Players from both teams will wear purple heart decals on their helmets during the game.

"We're really grateful that the Senators, the Sens Foundation, the Philadelphia Flyers and really the whole hockey community are embracing this and letting it happen," said Richardson. "People are crying out for help and this discussion, and I think this (night) just heightens it. We're using this as a bit of a platform, not only for the people in the arena but (anyone) in the city who hears it.

"We feel a closeness to (the issue) with Daron but we don't feel it's just about Daron. Everybody can use this as information, as maybe guidance to get help, to speak up when you're not feeling great. That's just the whole thing and Saturday night is an extra step. There's a little bit of momentum here and if we can use this is another situation to keep that momentum growing and get that word out a little bit more, that's what we're hoping to see."

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