COUNTDOWN TO THE RETURN OF ALFIE (Dec. 1): 11 essays on #11 (#4 — Daniel Alfredsson as mental health crusader)

AlfieCover_300-235x320In April 2013, Ottawa Magazine honoured the captain with the “Alfie Pack,” deconstructing the Senators’ icon with 11 essays on No. 11. By July, he was a Detroit Red Wing.

On December 1, Alfie and the Red Wings visit The Canadian Tire Centre for the first time since the deal was done. In the lead-up to the big event, Ottawa Magazine revisits our 11 essays — one essay per day for 11 days. (Want a copy? Back issues for sale here.)


Turning It up to 11: Alfie as Mental Health Crusader

By Moira Farr

In the photograph on the website, he’s wearing a grey golf shirt, distressed jeans, and a great pair of running shoes. His muscled arms are folded across his chest, and he stares full on into the camera with a no-nonsense expression. He could be the guy who just arrived on your doorstep to deliver your new television. He could be your decent neighbour coming around to make sure you know about the rash of break-ins nearby. He could be your trusted brother who hasn’t heard from you in a while and just wanted to check in and see if you’re okay.

Daniel Alfredsson was shot for the You Know Who I Am campaign of the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. Photography by Colin Rowe
Daniel Alfredsson was shot for the You Know Who I Am campaign of the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. Photography by Colin Rowe

You know who he is. No, not the television man, the guy next door, your brother, or God — just Daniel Alfredsson: proud, unashamed face of the You Know Who I Am campaign of the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. When a traditionally less than popular cause, such as mental illness, goes looking for a spokesperson and the most popular, respected sports figure in your community says, “Yes, I’ll be your man for that,” you can bet the people behind that cause do a happy dance.

Alfredsson said yes to The Royal in 2008 and has steadily supported its campaign ever since, faithfully attending galas and other events, chairing the annual Leaders for Mental Health fundraising breakfast, and freely lending his name and image to the cause of ending the stigma that has always surrounded mental illness.

“The first time he visited The Royal to talk about getting involved, he was interested and engaged. He came and toured the facility, met with staff and patients, and was ready to get involved, indicating, ‘Just tell me what I can do,’ ” says Andrée Steel, president and CEO of the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.

Why this cause? Alfredsson has been open about his own connection to the issue: his younger sister, Cecilia, back in Sweden, suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, a reality that has affected the whole family.

She is doing well now, with treatment and support, but Alfredsson has the humility to admit that he was as uninformed and unsympathetic as the next person when she began to have difficulties, because he didn’t understand the seriousness of mood disorders. It made him realize how much he didn’t know about mental illness.

Now he gets it and gets that speaking openly about such problems is the only way to reduce the fear, shame, and secrecy that have often accompanied those who have battled mental illness.

Alfredsson’s impact, Steel says, has been extraordinary. “It goes beyond Ottawa. We get national media attention now. Since he joined the campaign, we’ve had so many people approach us who say he has inspired them to volunteer, make donations, or simply come forward and tell their own stories. He has made it okay to talk about mental illness.”

It’s an impact felt deeply in the Senators community — indeed, across the NHL. When the 2010 suicide of Daron Richardson, 14-year-old daughter of then assistant coach Luke Richardson, rocked the entire city, Alfredsson was there to support and speak out, especially with a message encouraging young people to reach out for help in dark times. When the Richardson family decided to start their own philanthropic campaign, Do It For Daron, in partnership with The Royal, Alfredsson and his wife, Bibi, matched their donation to the cause without hesitation.

That picture of him out of uniform on the You Know Who I Am website is well chosen and significant. It levels the playing field. It says mental illness affects everyone — television guys, neighbours, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, and hockey heroes — and that courage is a good thing to have, on or off the ice.