ATB Classic puts mental health at the forefront of tournament

This year’s ATB Classic golf tournament drives better mental health support for golfers and Albertans alike

By Angelique Rodrigues 7 October 2021 4 min read

Curtis Stange and Jared du Toit posing with the tournament trophy

When Simone Biles opted out of the women's gymnastics team event at the Tokyo Olympics, it changed the conversation around athletes' mental health. Her courage created a ripple effect that is impacting the way we talk about mental health in professional sports.

Inspired by this new dialogue, ATB added something new to this year’s ATB Financial Classic 2021 tournament to support the players themselves: a subscription to the easy to access, affordable therapy platform Inkblot, for every player in the tournament.

"Together with ATB, Inkblot offered three hours of counselling support to every athlete in the tournament, and afterwards the opportunity to pay for additional counselling at rates that are half the national rates," said Marion Yoshida, Chief Revenue Officer for the Canadian therapy platform.

"They're able to book sessions from 90 mins to 30 mins—which helps in terms of accessibility and is really conducive to the busy schedules of these athletes."

For Albertan golfer Jared du Toit, this year's ATB Financial Classic tournament champ, this was a surprising first.

"I've been playing golf for a while and I've never seen anything like that [supplied by a tournament]," said du Toit, who took home the coveted title and the $18,000 first-place prize.

"It's a really good idea and a really great resource for a lot of guys to use."

Under Pressure

ATB has been involved with PGA Tour Canada as a partner for the last 25 years. The ATB Classic tournament is one stop on the Mackenzie Tour—which tees players up to go on to the PGA tour. It's also a fundraiser and the dollars raised this year will go directly to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

According to the CMHA, in any given year, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health episode or illness. Mental health support continues to be underfunded and Albertans face long wait times for support services.

Add to that the additional pressure of competing at a high-level and it's not surprising a greater percentage of athletes deal with mental health disorders than those in the general population.

But what are those pressures for professional golfers? Du Toit explained there are a variety of stressors, from shouldering their families expectations and realizing longtime PGA tour dreams, to simply making ends meet.

"In professional golf, everything is earned. The tournament has a purse—you eat what you kill in that sense," said du Toit. "So, if you don't make any money, then you're kind of struggling. You see it all the time with guys. They get in a bad rhythm and it's tough to get out of."

Along with the pressure to perform, athletes often experience a number of other mental health challenges, including sleep disorders and anxiety. That's why Yoshida says it's critical they have access to mental health support and resources.

"The athletes who spoke up about mental health recently, like Simone Biles, have created space for others to speak about it," said Yoshida, adding that historically athletes are loath to share when their mental acuity is jeopardized.

"That's why private, flexible access to care can encourage players to get help."

Moving the needle... slowly

Recently, discussions around mental illness seem to be more common in golf. High-profile players like Bubba Watson and Andrew Johnston have opened up about their lives in the game and the anxiety, depression and isolation that comes with it.

"Obviously golf is different from a lot of sports. It's an individual sport—you're out there by yourself. You don't really have anyone to rely on—it's yourself and your score," said du Toit, adding that can be painfully apparent when you aren't on the leaderboard.

"A friend of mine had a great saying: 'It’s a pretty lonely game when you're playing bad.'"

It's a tough reality, and while there does seem to be greater willingness among the golfers to admit to needing help, du Toit says the age-old stigmas aren't quite shaken off yet.

"It's still a little bit taboo for guys to talk about it too much but it's come a long way," said du Toit.

So what's stopping it from becoming the norm? du Toit says few athletes feel comfortable reaching out for help without risking their reputation.

He hopes more tournaments can begin offering resources and advancing the dialogue around mental health for current, and future, players.

ATB's President and CEO Curtis Stange says he's very proud of the tournament's approach this year and extremely supportive of the Inkblot program, which is also in place for all ATB team members to access.

"Reducing the stigma around mental illness and improving the resources available to those struggling are important to the overall health of our communities," said Stange.

"We knew coming out of last year that these players had been facing additional stress—and we are thrilled to raise both awareness and funding for such an important cause."

In addition to offering therapy to the players, ATB Financial Classic 2021 raised more than $40,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Learn more about Inkblot Therapy and its accessible app here.

Inkblot is on a mission to improve your mental health at home, at work and beyond. We offer accessible, affordable and effective digital mental health solutions for individuals and organizations that care. With secure virtual counselling, personalized therapist matching services and digital-first employee wellness programs, we’re helping over a million people start feeling better without the wait.

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