Buddy Check for Jesse Supports Youth Mental Health

March 15, 2021. Article by: Government of B.C.

Buddy Check for Jesse – a youth-focused non-profit organization – is helping to change the conversation around youth mental health.

Anyone can experience challenges with their mental health – they are common and can happen at any age. Buddy Check for Jesse is supporting coaches of youth sports teams to talk openly to their players about mental health, and challenge stereotypes about who may be struggling.

The founder of Buddy Check for Jesse, Dr. Stu Gershman, shares his experiences, the work of the organization, and why talking about mental health with youth is so important.

The story of Buddy Check for Jesse

Stu’s first-born son, Jesse Gershman was a gifted young man. Jesse was extremely bright and accomplished, beginning a job in Silicon Valley at the age of 19. He had a caring relationship with his family and had many different interests.

Jesse also experienced some complex mental health challenges. He and his family worked together to support his needs. They tried everything they could. On October 29, 2014, when he was 22 years old, Jesse died by suicide.

At the time of Jesse’s passing, his younger brothers were 10 and 13. Stu was coaching their hockey teams in their home of Victoria, B.C. At what was a very challenging time for their family, people in the youth hockey community rallied around them.

Everyone [youth hockey players] was putting green tape on their sticks to help my boys, me and my family…green being the colour of mental health.

At one of their games, Stu says he decided to talk with the players on his sons’ team in the dressing room. He recalls that he spoke about brotherhood, what it means to be a teammate, and how important it is to not judge one another, because you never know what someone is going through – the talk was an emotional one.

A year later, on the anniversary of Jesse’s passing, Stu’s sons asked him, “Dad, are you going to do the green tape talk again?”

He did – that year, and for the next two years following that one.

I’ve always taken my role as a coach responsibly, and I realize it's way beyond the game, you’re a role model and you can have such an impact on the players you are involved with.

In 2017, Stu was at the gym thinking about what he was going to say for his “green tape talk” that year. Growing up playing organized sports, certain coaches stood out to him, “it wasn’t about any skill they taught me, it was about being human and having fun”.

That day, Stu thought “Wow, other hockey coaches can do this”. Coaches could speak to players about mental health in a positive way. It could make a difference.

After speaking with his family, community involvement, and lots of planning, Stu had the first “Buddy Check” weekend in October 2018, with hockey teams up and down Vancouver Island.

That’s how Buddy Check for Jesse began.

The impact of their work

Fast-forward to 2021, Buddy Check for Jesse is making a big impact on youth that play sports in B.C.

Their goal is all about reducing stigma around youth mental health challenges.

Buddy Check has worked with over 50,000 youth who play hockey in B.C., providing supports and resources for coaches to talk to players about mental health. In 2019, the organization supplied packages to 1,200 teams across the province, which included Buddy Check cards, wristbands, “coaches chat” information, downloadable resources, and the recognizable, green tape.

Stu hopes that Buddy Check is creating kindness and compassion. Youth are learning it’s okay to talk about the things they go through, and that you don’t know what someone else is going through either. “Don’t judge, you don’t know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes”, Stu says.

Youth will create change in the future, and they are forming opinions now. Stu feels that by normalizing talking about mental health at a young age, youth can begin to speak openly about these topics.

It [Buddy Check for Jesse] has been creating awareness amongst youth to support each other, to realize that mental health issues affect everybody…it’s okay to talk to each other and it’s amazing how therapeutic simply talking and sharing is, people don’t often realize that.

Stu expresses that over the past couple of years, youth, parents, and coaches have reached out in incredibly humbling ways to say how much the program has helped them, “sometimes it’s just the right time for someone to plant a seed…it has helped coaches to realize that their words matter”.

What’s next for Buddy Check for Jesse

Stu says that when Buddy Check for Jesse began, they didn’t know where they were headed. Soon, he realized that they could make a difference, along with other organizations, and expand their reach.

Over time, lots of people have approached them about getting the message out there. They’ve worked with Hockey Canada, the BC Amateur Sports Fund, teachers in schools, and hockey teams throughout B.C., and even other provinces. The program has applied for charity designation, which Stu explains will allow Buddy Check for Jesse to receive more funding and expand their resources.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has had to adapt, but they are working on getting more people excited and involved – expanding to a multi-sport format, connecting with youth in other sports like soccer, basketball, marathoning, swimming, and beyond. Stu says, “It was inevitable this [expansion] would happen; we are trying to grow slow and methodically”.

Buddy Check for Jesse is reaching youth. More and more, these messages can help people find support and stay safer – whether someone is experiencing challenges with their mental health, or substance use.

Stu reflects how he is often asked if Buddy Check for Jesse has helped heal the grief from Jesse’s death.

The answer is no, grief is grief and it is what it is, it rolls over you, I embrace it. I don’t want to be having to do any of this, it’s not a club I wanted to be part of…but it humbles me to know we are making a difference in our sphere of influence and our community, honouring Jesse and helping others.

For Jesse’s family, his own brothers, and his friends, Buddy Check for Jesse is their community.

If this is how Jesse lives on, and his legacy is through us, then that’s the way it should be, and I’m okay with that.

Find out more about getting involved with the Buddy Check for Jesse program.

Where to find help

If you or someone you care about is experiencing a mental health challenge, help is available.

To find support:

If you or someone you know is planning to hurt themselves, thinking about ending their own life, or is experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideas, reach out for help immediately.

There are resources available to help you and others stay safer. These supports are confidential. There are places to get help.