Landsberg: Depression is not weakness

Michael Landsberg, studied radio and television at Ryerson. He has been the host of TSN’s Off the Record since 1997 and is now producer as well.  Courtesy of Michael Landsberg Michael Landsberg, studied radio and television at Ryerson. He has been the host of TSN’s Off the Record since 1997 and is now producer as well. Courtesy of Michael Landsberg

Amanda Tuzi
A&E Reporter

Michael Landsberg has been a leading Canadian broadcaster discussing everything and anything about sports since 1997.

“Broadcasting gave me a chance to get closer to the game and in a small way be part of the game,” said the host and producer of TSN’s Off the Record.

But while on screen Landsberg is known for his bold personality, strong lines of questioning and conducting serious interviews, off screen he is more vulnerable.

“Depression is the illness that destroys your ability to feel joy,” Landsberg said.

Given his own experience, Landsberg has started a campaign called Sick Not Weak, intended for people who suffer from depression or know someone who does, to come together to diffuse the stigma around the condition. As of now, people can connect over Twitter through #sicknotweak and the campaign website will be launched shortly.

“I’m dispelling this myth that mental illness is caused by weakness,” says Landsberg. “That’s something that we believe, that’s the stigma, at the heart of the stigma is that mental illness is perceived as a weakness not an illness.”

Landsberg is among several guest speakers at a Humber Students’ Federation Real Talks event held at the Lakeshore Campus on Nov. 19, and will present from 10:50 to 11:30 a.m.

In 2009, Landsberg started giving inspirational speeches to encourage others suffering from depression to acknowledge their illness and ask for help.

The mental health activist says the biggest step in confronting the illness is acknowledging that there has been a change in the sufferer.

“I gotta realize that I’m a different person. Who I was is gone, who I am I don’t want to be and that’s a huge part of getting healthy again. It’s the acknowledgement that you have changed and that who you were, you want to be,” said Landsberg. “Then you have to embark on the trip to get back to that person.”

Landsberg made the decision to go on medication and although he says the anti-depressants help him, there are many other options to try first such as therapy, exercise, or self-help strategies. In order for anti-depressants to reach their potency, it requires some time and there is a large possibility of experiencing side effects.

“While I believe there are many ways to treat depression and that we should be open minded, depression medication should certainly not be a first resort or the first thing you think of or do,” said Landsberg. “So I’m not endorsing it, but for me it changed my life and saved my life and it continues to and I’ll probably have to be on it the rest of my life.”

Twelve days into taking the medication, Landsberg recalls the exact moment when the cloud began to lift, which he describes as one of the highlights of his life internally.

Landsberg has advice to those battling depression. “Share. Learn about your illness and find a way to embrace the concept that you are sick and you are not weak. Three words, ‘sick not weak’, and if you can do that, if you can make that part of you, then you have a far better chance of getting help.”

Landsberg’s role in the public eye, connected to an area of endeavour, sports, associated with toughness, has lent impact to his mission.

“A lot of young people that are fans of sports will know him or recognize him so it’s good that a person of his status will speak about these issues that those people may not be aware about themselves, their friends or family,” said Sandro Tullo, 22, a part-time liberal arts student.

Becky Harper, 20, a second-year paramedic student, said, “I think it’s a really big deal because he is a big name in sports and I think his cause is even better to raise awareness about depression and telling people it’s okay to have depression and to speak out about it because there is a big stigma about it.”

On a scale of one to ten Landsberg’s difficulty with sharing his deepest feelings about depression with a crowd is a zero, he said. He admitted he has no hesitation, and it’s the easiest thing in the world.

“I look at it like you’re able to save a life without swimming out to a lake and risking anything. I feel like the more I see the benefit of simply talking, as I will at Humber, the more I feel obligated to do, because if you’re not doing it and you know that people are out there that you could help, then shame on you because it doesn’t really take much.

“My degree is in speaking the language of mental illness. If you don’t speak the language you’ll never be able to communicate fully with someone who’s sick. Someone like me who suffers from it will always be perceived as someone who has credibility with others,” Landsberg said.

During the talk at Humber, Landsberg will open on his past and struggles.  He will fully expose his illness and what it does to him in hopes to encourage those who are struggling to seek help and to know that someone else has been on the same path and found a way to endure the battle.

“It gives me value that I would never get from anything else. It gives me the sense of doing something good for humanity that I would never get from just my job,” said Landsberg.

“Does it help me with my struggle? Does it lessen the illness for me?  Not a bit, but it gives me a way in my life to attribute something good to something really bad.”