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Moorhead youth hockey program aims to help 'break the ice' on mental health issues

It seems people are finally talking about mental health. In Moorhead, the youth hockey program has taken mental health to another level.

MOORHEAD — When hockey players lace up their skates and hit the ice, they have the support and backing of a new teammate called M3 , a research-based mental health program that is getting to hockey players in Moorhead as young as five.

"You don't take swimming lessons when you are drowning, you don't talk about mental health when you are in crisis," said M3 founder Amber Ferrie.

It's no surprise hockey moms started this program. There are hats all over Moorhead, urging skaters to break the ice. Much of it sparked following the death of Eli Johnson, who was a Spud and Cobber who died by suicide.

"Don't feel embarrassed, because everyone has it at one point, and you should just tell to a trusted parent, or somebody that you feel loved by and it'll be all good," said squirt hockey player Weston Rosenfeldt.

Thanks to an Offutt Family Foundation grant, M3 is now able to put on hockey tournaments in December that focus on mental health. The Eli Johnson Memorial Squirt tournament is the weekend of Dec. 4 in Moorhead.

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"There will be mental health professionals in the building (during the tournament), every team will have a team talk (about) what do you do when you need help, (and) what do you do when a friend needs help," Ferrie said. "(There are) lots of material things going home with the kids. Not just pamphlets and flyers, but bracelets that open up a conversation so the parents at home can say, 'Hey, tell me about that, what is that, do you know what that is, what does that mean to you?'"

There is now research-proven curriculum for these kids, and there will also be an app, all designed to let kids know it is OK to not be OK.

"We want them to realize that mental health isn't this scary, big thing, (and) that it's just about forming relationships, and managing big feelings," said mental health clinician Kelli Gast. "We're really trying to normalize it, and to get them talking and we hope that they're just like, 'this is nothing out of the ordinary.'"

"I think it's fantastic and it's something that hasn't really been done before," said hockey parent Thad Stafford.

Stafford is a former Moorhead police officer and knows all about this. A very public DUI arrest, loss of a job, but then he got help.

"It really gave me an avenue to be a little bit more comfortable — because it is a private stuff," Stafford said. "That helps me in my recovery and the struggles that I've dealt with mental-health wise, and addiction."

He has children in sports, he's coached, and nothing makes him happier than to see mental health become a part of Moorhead Youth Hockey.

The project is so appealing other towns are looking into the program. The hope is the M3 program builds confidence, motivate the young players, but also let them know there is a welcoming safety net and hundreds of people willing to listen and step in.

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"I think it would be easier just to talk about it now, because people are more open to listening than they were even a couple of years ago," said Moorhead peewee hockey player Sam Cragg.

Related Topics: WELLNESSKEVIN WALLEVAND
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