Josh Long started at the age of twelve for one specific reason: his mom signed him up for his first Level 1 course. She would sign him up for games, tell him when he needed to be there, and drive him to the rink. It wasn’t until Josh spent the 2015-16 season working for his local Junior A team that he started thinking more seriously about officiating. At the time, Josh was working minor hockey up to Midget AA level. He saw the officials who were working the BC Hockey League, and figured that was an attainable goal he could set his sights on. At the end of that season, he was selected to officiate the Bantam AAA provincials and officiated his first BCHL game in September of that year.
“I took [anti-depressants] for a while… it was fucking awful”
Josh never saw himself as someone with mental health problems but his mom disagreed. During his senior year of high school, his mom noticed that something was wrong and made an appointment for Josh to see a therapist. Josh was sleeping a lot and acknowledges that he wasn’t a particularly social person but he didn’t view that as a problem. The doctor diagnosed Josh with depression and prescribed medication to help alleviate the symptoms. Josh took antidepressants for about eight months but it was a terrible experience. He spent most of that time sleeping. He would come home from school, nap until dinner, and then go back to sleep until it was time for school again. Eventually, it became unbearable and Josh took himself off the medication.
“I [used to] get angry a lot but I didn’t feel like it was affecting me because I was holding that anger in and dealing with it…”
Josh experienced some negative symptoms after taking himself off his medication but overall, he felt better. He was happier not having to deal with the side-effects of the medication and that helped negate his depressive symptoms. His life also had changed during that time and he felt like the worst of his depression was behind him.
“I’ll have situations where I’m really nervous and I get short of breath… never [a full panic attack] but it’s a thing.”
The only negative aspect of Josh’s mental health that persists today is anxiety. In talking with his mom, Josh knows that he was anxious as a child. There are times when Josh will be nervous and the more he thinks about it, he will find himself becoming short of breath and having trouble distracting himself. Recently, Josh was in contention to be hired as a linesman in the Western Hockey League. As he waited to find out, he found his anxiety creeping into his day-to-day life.
“I’d say being anxious before games helps me focus… the job never changes.”
Eventually, he received an email with an assignment to a WHL exhibition game and while that was an exciting moment, it brought another wave of anxiety. Josh wondered if he was ready to make the step to Canada’s premier Major Junior hockey league. He was anxious in the weeks leading up to the game, rolling these thoughts around in his head. However, once he got into his gameday routine, his anxiety broke. Josh headed to the rink and prepared himself as best he could. He hit the ice and his anxiety was the furthest thing from his mind. After that game, he was officially hired to the WHL and has worked seven games so far this season.
“I would say I had social anxiety… I would do my absolute best to not socialize with new people”
Josh was never a very social person and as a teenager, he would go out of his way to avoid unfamiliar situations or ones where he would have to interact with new people. Although he never felt as though he was actively work to improve his social skills, officiating and working at the local hockey shop helped him counteract his anxiety. Having said that, Josh was afraid of refereeing. He felt more comfortable working as a linesman and that helped build his confidence while guarding him from a lot of the typical abuse that teenaged referees receive.
“I think now it’s so open [talking about mental health], that I would feel comfortable talking about my experience.”
As Josh’s work forced him to develop social skills, he also found that he cared less about what other people thought of him. He acknowledges that leaving the enforced familiarity and rigid social structure of high school helped him change his perception of himself . Now Josh feels as though he can manage his anxiety and he would feel comfortable talking about mental health if it ever came up in conversation.
“If it came up, I would be okay sharing my past so that if someone else was going through something like that, they would know that it’s okay not to be okay; whether that’s past or present.”
Josh’s willingness to share his story is motivated by the need to continue pushing the conversation around mental health. He hopes that will include support for officials of all ages because of the stressful nature of the job. #BellLetsTalk days are important but the conversation needs to happen year-round in order for meaningful chance to occur.
On-Side Mental Health is proud to publish and share Josh’s story in the hope that it will encourage other officials to speak out and find support when they experience challenges with their mental health.