Mental health is an aspect of everyday life that affects a lot of us. The thing with mental health and illness is that it holds no bounds and can affect any one of us. This became clear to fans of the NHL when Vancouver Canucks player Rick Rypien took his own life in 2011. Since then fellow teammate Kevin Bieksa initiated the program ‘Hockey Talks’ which is run by all seven NHL Canadian hockey teams to promote mental health awareness and conversation on such matters.
Sadly this is not an uncommon story within Ice Hockey, 19 players have taken their own lives, with much more having attempted. Former NHL goaltender Clint Malarchuk suffered from severe PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) after suffering a cut jugular on the ice, this eventually led to an attempted suicide. Malarchuk like Bieksa has been taking strides to open up conversations on mental health by giving talks regarding mental health, PTSD, depression, and suicide.
But is there a deeper issue ingrained within the sport? Each NHL site advertises and states that 1 in 5 men suffers from a mental health issue, but we see no players coming forward to share their experiences. This is seen in the hashtag #BellLet’sTalk promoted to again open up the conversation on the matter. However, it became apparently visible that players were merely tweeting the hashtag without any personal content or context. What message does this speak to fans? It is a great thing to push, especially as a social media campaign, but without any real experience or stories, it seems to simmer and appear rather lackluster.
Is there an idea that if you speak out about such a personal experience whilst still actively playing that you won’t be taken seriously? Or seen as weak by others? As we see only former players speaking out about such issues, it is hard to imagine that current NHL players aren’t experiencing the same. After the passing of Steve Montador in 2015, Canadian women’s hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser stated that it’s hard to not feel isolated on the ice and that constantly having to push yourself to stay at your best has a toll on your mental well-being. It is a tough sport, and at that level it is competitive, but this shouldn’t stop teams from acting as such.
There needs to be a push from the inside, even if no one is experiencing the issue themselves. As we see on YouTube Vlogs and from celebrities such as grime artist Stormzy and English royalty Prince Harry, the best way to spread a message to the public is to personally speak about a matter. If NHL players used the platform of hockey talks to say ‘I’ve suffered from…’ or ‘There have been low times…’, no one would disregard them, or see them as weak. We want our heroes to be people, and we want to see them as humans, just like ourselves.
Not just in the NHL but in society, in general, we need to push away from stereotypes and taboos within opening up about mental health. The best way to make a change in society is to use your voice.
I apologize for the somewhat deeper nature of this post, but if you or a loved one are experiencing from such issued surrounding mental health or suicide then please contact one of these numbers or websites.
CANADA complete list of hotlines http://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/
UK http://www.samaritans.org/ Number: 116 123
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