Playing hockey was a lifelong passion for Jillian Langtry, and once she had made it to the University of Maine’s Division One team, the pressure was on.
“Oh, my goodness, there was so much pressure,” Langtry said.
“Being in this sport, and you’re also doing your education, and I realized there was so much ups and downs, mentally, and it was hard. It was definitely not an easy path. You’re always wondering what was going to happen. Anxiety had definitely increased. I think at that time mental health wasn’t talked about too much, and I definitely felt it was something that could have been used, just having somebody to relate to and help you with the pressures.”
Those struggles she faced during her hockey career, ones she realized were widespread and heavily affecting young athletes, helped to set her down the path she is on today. Langtry has recently opened a private practice, Ontario Clinical Associates, with one of her colleagues, which aims to provide inclusive and compassionate mental health services to those who need them, all from the comfort of the patient’s home. A Certified Clinical Traumatologist, with a Masters Degree in Social Work with a Clinical Concentration from the University of New England and some additional sports-related training, Langtry is now in the position to offer a helping hand to young athletes who are in similar positions to the one she herself went through while playing hockey.
“This is a really important thing for young athletes, athletes in general, and their mental health because it’s a really tough task to navigate,” she said.
“I want to make sure that people have an outlet because it was such a struggle internally and for a lot of us. It was hard. We had many, many people quit due to mental health and there really wasn’t a lot of access. And there certainly wasn’t a lot of access to people that knew what was going on, like other athletes that had been down this road before.”
The relationship between mental health and sports has reached a new level of public awareness in the wake of high profile athletes like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles stepping away from their respective professions for mental health reasons in 2021. Osaka withdrew from the French Open and Biles stepped away from gymnastics team finals at the Tokyo Olympics. Langtry said she respects decisions like that, highlighting that the internal battle with mental health can have significant impacts on an athletes ability to perform, and to do so safely.
“I also understand and connect with it so much, because it can be such a battle internally, and it can be really tough to perform under the pressure,” Langtry said.
“We have to pay attention to those mental health difficulties, because that’s what helps us and puts us in those positions. I think being able to recognize ‘hey, I’m not doing ok,’ and being able to admit that and seek help for that is the most important thing, because we end up in those positions where it becomes too much when we should have taken a step back earlier.”
Langtry also stressed that it’s crucial for young athletes, women especially, to be able to have those tough discussions around mental health as suicide rates among young female athletes have been on the rise.
“Recently, there have been a increase in suicides in young female athletes due to the pressures of sports, injuries and the difficulties that come up with sports,” Langtry said.
“I do think this is important to touch on, as this can be a very real feeling for people and I want to make sure that people reach out for help and support if they are thinking of this option.”
It’s important to consider that as much as a sport might have a huge place in an athletes life, they are not only the sport they play, Langtry said. She noted it’s important for young athletes to be able to look at what defines them as a person outside of their sport, like other interests, values, and personal characteristics, since those aspects will always be a part of someone even when their career has come to a close.
Langtry shared that part of the onus for taking care of an athlete’s mental health also comes from coaches and parents, who can have huge impacts on the athlete and their state of mind.
“I don’t know if coaches or parents understand their true big impact on athletes,” she said.
“I think a coach or parent who can be overly critical in ways that aren’t promoting that positive push can be really detrimental. Be really mindful of the impact you have on these players, because that’s a make-it-or-break-it thing for kids and young athletes trying to make it. That encouragement is really good, but when it starts to get to a point where it’s more critical and increasing pressure in a negative way, I think being mindful and able to be gentle and encouraging at the same time [is better].”
Langtry said her next steps are to continue building up her practice, bringing in more athletes and eventually adding in some sports consultation as well. She said she would like to be the person that an athlete in her position at the University of Maine could have benefitted from.
“If I had that at school, just being able to sit down with somebody, even if it was through a screen and say ‘this really sucked today,’ or, ‘I had a really bad shift, I had a really bad game,’ and just be able to have somebody that had been in my shoes to say, ‘I get it, it’s okay, this doesn’t define who you are as a person,’ would have made such a difference,” Langtry said.
“I just think that would have made a world of difference. I would like to see more athletes and make make impact with the athletes that I’m working with. So I think that’s kind of my path; where I’m at, but adding a little bit more.”