Pitbulls Supporting Mind

The Bristol Pitbulls will support the mental health charity Mind throughout the 2019-20 season.

Mind is a charity that is particularly close to the hearts of the Bristol Pitbulls after our own Janne Virtanen recently went public with his own battle with mental health on the Now We’re Talking Facebook page.

Having recently played for the Mind Mental Ice Hockey team at the UK Charity All Stars weekend, Janne bravely opened up about his long battle with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation and how it brought him to the brink of making a final, fatal decision. And how it was only a phone call to The Samaritans that pulled him back.

From the very first day that Janne walked into the Bristol dressing room ten years ago he has been universally its most popular member. The one player that everyone considered themselves lucky to have as a teammate and, more importantly, as a friend.

Therefore, Janne’s story is an important reminder of how mental health can create an alternative reality for someone to the one that everyone else sees them in. Why it is so important to create a culture where they feel that they can show us that world so that we can help them find their way out of it. To make them realise that however difficult a conversation it may be for either of us, it’s still one that we want to have with them.

That is why the Bristol Pitbulls have decided to highlight the work being done by Mind.

The team’s third jerseys have been designed to support Mind’s efforts to raise awareness and promote understanding of mental health. To help Mind provide their advice and support service for anyone experiencing a mental health problem, the jerseys will be available to fans through an own and loan scheme with all profits going to Mind. We are grateful to Dunamis Sports who are providing the jerseys at cost to allow us to maximise the money we can raise.

We will post details on how to get one of the jerseys in the coming days.

The team will also be doing collections for Mind throughout the season, including leaving buckets at the ticket desk where we encourage everyone to put their change. You can also donate through our JustGiving page at justgiving.com/fundraising/bristolpitbullsmind.

about Mind

We provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. We campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. We won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect.

For 70 years, we have been committed to making sure that everyone experiencing a mental health problem can access the support they need and is treated with the respect they deserve.

Through public campaigns, influencing decision makers and the services our local Minds deliver in communities across England and Wales, we have touched millions of lives.

Mind’s website can be found at www.mind.org.uk.

Janne’s Story

Writing an introduction to these things is always hard. How do you start to tell your story about mental health struggles? Do you open with “Hi, my name is Janne and I’m mentally ill”? Actually, that is a pretty good opening.

Hi, my name is Janne and I’m mentally ill.

I have been battling depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation since I was 16. During that time I have undergone several low points, some more severe than others. In my teens, my depressive period was triggered by a move away from my native and having to rebuild friendships and my life. This was back when depression was even more of a taboo than it is today. It was definitely a time when if you felt depressed, you kept it to yourself or the school bullies would have a reason to single you out.

I think, this is also part of the reason why people my age maybe have more difficulty when it comes to mental health. Despite mental health being understood and accepted in society today, having grown up through a period where it was stigmatized it has meant that I am not good at seeking help, but rather internalizing the problem, which leads to further downward spiraling.

One of my most recent depressive periods was quite intense. This took place about six years ago after my son was born. I was overjoyed about being a parent, but soon these fears of “How do I actually parent” and “how do I support a family on my income” came in and the more I dwelled on it, the more I became convinced that my son would be better off without me.

One evening at work (I was the last one in the office), with tears streaming down my face, I wrote suicide note. I had made up my mind that I was going to unbuckle my seatbelt and crash my car into a bridge on the motorway on my way home.

Before I shut down my laptop that evening, I was googling for a “best way to end a suicide note”. Back then, the top paid search result was for The Samaritans. I don’t know what made me do it, but I picked up the phone and I rang them. It is probably the single most important, subconscious decision I have made in my life. I remember crying to the lady who answered the phone and told her about my intentions. She did a lot of re-assuring that I was a good father and that my son would be worse off growing up without a dad. She referred me to my local mental health team who took over my care the following day.

Her parting words to me were: “When you drive home tonight, I want you to picture your son’s smile and hear his laughter in your ears.” That is what I did. Thanks to that advice, I drove past the bridge where – just hours before – I had decided that I was going to crash into, without even noticing.

I didn’t tell people at hockey about any of this, just that I had been signed off from work because of stress related issues. Ice hockey and the gym became my safe spaces. It didn’t matter how thick the fog over my head was, as I could forget all about the darkness that was following me. However, this wasn’t an easy fix. It took a lot of work to actually see the benefits. At the very start, I was working out without headphones on, because I was convinced that people in the gym were talking about me and what a complete mess I was.

At hockey, it was difficult seeing your teammates. Or seeing people in general. I remember having anxiety attacks in my car before getting out and getting into the changing room. On the ice, it was tough going at first because I was so afraid of screwing up.

At work, once I was able to go back, I was a wreck. Working in an industry that relies on relationships and interacting with people on daily basis, picking up the phone or writing an email was really difficult and I lost count on how many times I had to go into the bathroom to calm myself down and stop my hands from shaking.

I was fortunate that I had a lot of protective factors around me. I was also fortunate of being able to access fantastic counseling services, which sadly have since been cut to the bone.

It took me probably over a year to say that I was over the worst of it. Which in a way is a curse because I feel like I didn’t get to enjoy my son’s infant year so much. There are happy memories from this time for sure, but there is a part of me that feels that I missed out.

It has been difficult dealing with these issues and it still is difficult some days, but one thing I have learnt and try to do is to look at it from a perspective of strength. When I think back on all the thoughts that I have had and how far down I had let myself fall and compare that with how far I’ve come, to me that is a source of strength. By talking about it and sharing this story, I hope people will share their stories and realise the strength within them. My DM’s are always open to those that want to talk on Twitter and/or Instagram (@amateur_hockey)

My name is Janne Virtanen and I am mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean I am mentally weak.