WINNIPEG -- October is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month in Canada, and one organization is using sports to spread the word.

Buddy Check For Jesse is a program aimed at youth hockey players, designed to destigmatize mental illness.

Geoff Reimer, Assistant Coach for the U15 Interlake Lightning hockey team participated in the Buddy Check For Jesse Program on Tuesday, and had a frank discussion about mental health with his team.

“The Buddy Check’s been around for a few years, I’ve done this very similar speech to a few teams that I’ve had before," said Reimer.

“It’s something that we try and encourage every year.”

The Buddy Check for Jesse was named after Jesse-Short Gershman, a 22-year-old from Victoria who struggled with mental health issues and died by suicide.

Jesse’s Dad was a coach and he began having talks with his players about mental health, that’s when Buddy Check For Jesse program started.

In the program, coaches give a speech explaining to their players that mental illness is just as normal as asthma or a broken arm.

Green is the color representing mental health, and players use green stick tape to show support for the cause.

“My kids have hockey sticks at home with green tape on them, and it does a really good job of reminding us about the Buddy Check,” said Reimer.

The Stonewall Jets are a Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League team that also signed up for the Buddy Checks program.

Team captain Carson Ouelette said it’s a really simple initiative to be a part of.

“You’re just wearing green tape, and what that does is it creates a ripple effect," said Ouellette.

“Minor hockey teams are going to see you with green tape, they’re going to want to be like you, and they’re going to put on green tape, and they’re going to understand the issue.”

Organizers of the Buddy Check For Jesse said close to 150 teams signed up for the program in 2019, but getting participants this year has been a challenge because of COVID-19.

“We can’t go to arenas, there are no games scheduled yet, even exhibition games aren’t happening right now," said Robyn Vandersteen, organizer of Buddy Check For Jesse in Manitoba.

“Teams and associations are taking longer this year to form, so to get in touch with a coach (is hard because) they don’t have a team yet.”

She said the goal for the program this year is to push forward with the movement and sign up as many teams as possible.

Coach Reimer said mental health affects everyone, and he wants his players to know they have options.

“I just wanted to let them know that if they’re having different types of thoughts, and not feeling the best about situations, that there is the option for them to talk to somebody.”

Hockey teams interested in signing up for the program can find more information online.