How a TikTok star’s Maple Leafs account became a safe place for mental health conversations


Misery.

That’s the first word that comes to mind when Giuseppe Oppedisano describes his Toronto Maple Leafs fandom. To be fair, the 21-year-old Montrealer’s love for the team was sparked 17 years ago, a shorter lifespan than the 18 years it’s been since Toronto last won a playoff round.

And yet his fandom never wanes.

“The thing people don’t get is the Leafs are not a normal organization. They’re not a normal team. When they’re supposed to win, they lose. When they’re supposed to lose, they win,” Oppedisano said in a phone interview. “It’s just an emotional rollercoaster. We just love the team too much.”

Talking about the misery is a coping mechanism for Leafs fans to get through the playoff collapses that seemingly unfold on repeat. And sharing that pain publicly was what started Oppedisano’s new journey as an influencer in the hockey community online. He has shared personal pain, too, becoming a mental health advocate both for himself and those who follow him.

Oppedisano created a TikTok account about three years ago as a joke. He would post the occasional video of things he thought were funny or follow trends on the platform. But his first viral video of him targeted a more specific audience: Why it’s so hard being a Leafs fan. He went all-in on hockey content after that, even switching his account name from “@RelatedMoments” to “@ThatLeafsFan.”

Since then, Oppedisano has put all his energy into growing his account. He quit university — an easy decision, he says, as his heart was never in it — and instead put his efforts into posting three to 10 videos a day on TikTok. I have records his reaction to heartbreaking lossesshares videos of viral hockey moments, writes songs about years of playoff failure to the tune of popular TikTok melodies and, when necessary, finds a way to make fun of the refs.

He has amassed almost 400,000 followers on the platform and a handful more on Instagram and Twitch. He has signed with an agency and has landed hockey-related partnerships with the likes of Tim Hortons, which he credits with helping him win over his parents.

“When you start something like this and you try to explain it to, call it, traditional parents, they’re kind of like, ‘Yeah, but when are you gonna do something real, and get a real job?’” he said , admitting that the concern came from a place of love.

As his following grew by the tens of thousands, so too did the pressures of producing engaging videos.

Leafs fan Giuseppe Oppedisano first created a TikTok account three years ago as a joke.  Now he has almost 400,000 followers.

“It does get overwhelming. I’m already a very anxious person. It can start to choke you,” Oppedisano said. “You think, ‘Oh, I have no ideas today, what if I run out of ideas forever, and what if it’s the end of the account, and if it’s the end of the account, then who am I?’ It goes down the rabbit hole.”

It got to a point where it was interfering in his daily life and taking the joy out of creating his hockey videos. He was breaking down behind the camera though, in front of it, nobody could tell.

“It just feels like a weight that’s hitting you in the face,” Oppedisano said. “You’re like, someone see this. Someone recognizes that I’m going through this. But at the same time, don’t show it.”

That’s when he decided to make another big content change. After agonizing over how people would react, I decided to share his mental health struggles in an emotional video posted before the 2020-21 NHL season.

“Many of you guys know me as this happy kid who has no problems and quite frankly, that’s just not the truth,” he said in the video. “I’ve been struggling with severe depression and anxiety and even suicidal thoughts for about four to five years now and the truth is, it’s really f-ing hard.”

Oppedisano stressed the importance for people to talk about their mental health challenges and provided encouragement to those struggling. The outpouring of support and appreciation he received from viewers in response gave him a sense of purpose. He now had a platform where the two most important things in his life could coexist: important mental health conversations and the Maple Leafs.

“That was crazy to think about, how this is a hockey account but it’s also more than that, it’s about the well-being of everyone, the inclusiveness, just putting a smile on someone’s face when things are hard,” Oppedisano said. He posts regularly to update his followers on how he’s feeling and, on occasion, openly says he needs to take a break from social media to take more time for himself, while encouraging others to do the same.

“I just try to be a positive place for people to come through. And it helps me because it makes me feel like I have meaning in my life, which makes me manifest a better relationship with myself,” he said.

Now he just needs to work on his relationship with the Leafs.

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