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A champion on and off the pitch: Olympian Jen Kish shares her story on World Bipolar Day

Posted March 27, 2023 in Bell Let's Talk, English by 0

Celebrated on March 30 each year, World Bipolar Day is an opportunity to increase awareness and education about the illness, which affects around 2.2% of Canadians and over 46 million people worldwide.

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depressive illness, is characterized by mood swings that may impact a person’s ability to thrive at work, in school, or within their everyday relationships. The onset of bipolar disorder usually takes place in late adolescence or early adulthood, and as a recurrent disorder, most individuals will experience several episodes of mania or hypomania and depression over their lifetime.

Although stigma around the disorder can impede early diagnosis, figuring out a stable treatment routine can greatly reduce the severity of bipolar episodes. Through resources such as therapy, medication, peer support and healthy lifestyle changes, many individuals living with bipolar disorder are able to thrive with the support of their friends and family.

To mark World Bipolar Day, we’re sitting down with Olympian Jen Kish, who captained Team Canada to their first-ever Olympic bronze medal in women’s rugby sevens at the Rio Games in 2016. After retiring from the sport in 2018, Jen shared that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder on World Suicide Prevention Day in 2020, in an effort to help others who might be struggling.

As an iconic Canadian athlete and mental health advocate, Jen is using her platform to help creative positive change for others. The Bell Let’s Talk “Let’s Change This” campaign encourages you to join the movement too, by taking action in your own community.

We can all play a role in creating a Canada where everyone gets the support they need. To learn more about how Jen started her journey as a mental health advocate, check out the interview below.

What first motivated you to seek support for your mental health, and how did receiving a diagnosis change things for you?

Thanks to my loving wife, I found the courage to seek help for my mental health struggles after an earlier-than-anticipated retirement from rugby. Her support and attentive nature helped me detect the subtle shifts in my behaviour that were a telltale sign of something deeper going on within me. She encouraged me to open up to a professional and take the first step towards a brighter future.

Receiving a diagnosis was a pivotal moment in my journey towards self-discovery and self-care. It was a liberating experience to finally have a name for the shadows that haunted me and to know that I was not alone in my struggles. I was able to take charge of my mental health, build resilience, and find acceptance.

In your opinion, what are some of the most common misconceptions people have about bipolar disorder? What resources helped you learn more about the reality of living with this diagnosis?

There are many misconceptions about the disorder, but the most common ones are that people with bipolar disorder cannot function or that there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to care.  I found that learning more about my diagnosis and understanding how it affects my life has been helpful. Resources like books, online forums, talking to professionals and support groups have been really beneficial too.

What were the ways you felt most supported by people in your life during challenging times?

During some of the toughest moments in my life, the support of those around me meant everything. Whether it was team members, friends, or family, having people who were willing to lend a listening ear or a helping hand was invaluable.

But at times, it felt like some of those people didn’t quite understand what I was going through, and that was beyond frustrating. There were moments when it seemed like people were just offering generic platitudes instead of actually listening to what I was saying. “Everything happens for a reason,” they’d say, or “Just stay positive, things will get better.” While I knew that they meant well, these comments often felt dismissive of the very real pain and struggle that I was experiencing.

What motivated you to share your diagnosis in 2020? 

In today’s world, where oversharing is often the norm, it can still be tough to open up about mental health issues. But that’s exactly what motivated me to share my bipolar diagnosis in 2020 – because I know firsthand how isolating and stigmatizing it can be to struggle with a mental illness. I realized that by keeping my struggles a secret, I was only perpetuating the stigma against mental illness. I was contributing to the idea that mental health problems should be hidden away and not talked about. And that did not sit right with me.

And what have you learned from your mental health advocacy so far?

Through my advocacy work, I have learned that mental health is just as important as physical health. In fact, they are interdependent. When our mental health is suffering, our physical health is also impacted, and vice versa. Also, one of the most crucial things I have learned is the power of sharing our stories.

“When we open up about our struggles, we allow others to see that they are not alone. It’s not easy to talk about our darkest moments, but doing so can help break down the barriers that keep us isolated and ashamed.”

Over the course of your incredible career, how have you seen the conversation around mental health change for athletes?

The conversation has changed drastically over the years – mental health is now seen as an important part of athletes’ overall health and well-being, and there is a much greater awareness of the challenges athletes can face in managing their mental health. The increased understanding and acceptance of mental health and its importance have helped to create a much more supportive environment for athletes to thrive in and to seek the help they need.

What advice would you give to someone struggling with their mental health?

It’s important to remember that you are not alone and there is always hope. Mental health challenges can be isolating and overwhelming, but there are ways to manage your mental health and get the help you need. Reach out to supportive friends and family, seek out counseling or therapy, and make sure to practice self-care. You are strong, capable, and worthy of love and care.

Thank you to Jen for sharing your story and encouraging people to learn more about bipolar disorder and pathways to support. To learn more about World Bipolar Day, visit

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