Hockey world leads the way in mental health awareness issues

On a day to talk about mental health awareness, the hockey world was at the forefront of the discussion – and the action – taking place.

For four years, Canadian communications giant Bell has stepped up to promote Let’s Talk – a mental health day (and program) of education and awareness. And on the day of its 2014 edition, the hockey world is leading the way in acceptance of and empathy for anyone dealing with afflictions of the mind.

On social media Tuesday, NHL rookies, veterans and hockey players at all levels sent out the #BellLetsTalk hashtag – in the process contributing five cents to mental health initiatives courtesy of Bell, which repeated the donation throughout the day for every Tweet and re-Tweet of the hashtag.




But hockey’s commitment to mental health doesn’t begin and end with Twitter. In NHL director of player safety and You Can Play Project co-founder Patrick Burke, they have an engaged advocate who spoke out to THN in October and bravely revealed his own harrowing battle with depression. In that story, Burke talked of his intent to ensure hockey’s best players understand that there is no stigma to seeking help, no stain in leaning on others when a burden overwhelms.

“The NHL and NHLPA have done a tremendous job of making these resources available,” Burke said. “What we have to do a better job of as a society is making sure players don’t feel in any way hesitant about utilizing these resources. That’s where we’re lacking right now. Those resources are there for the taking, they’re there for the players, and they’re easy to access. We just have to make sure people know that, not only is it OK to do this, but it’s important to do this.”

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The same is true for society at-large. There was a time someone as smart and successful as Burke would’ve been smeared and belittled as someone who just didn’t appreciate life, who just didn’t “get it” the way “normal” people did. But it’s precisely because of pioneers like Burke that we know mental health woes don’t plague one social strata. When you walk into a hockey arena, anyone – the players; the coach; the officials, fans, timekeepers, popcorn-makers – could be affected. Heartening, then, to see NHLers being so willing to create a positive environment for one another. They know every job and every life has its stresses and the only way some of them can be overcome is with assistance and the experience of those who’ve been there before.

“It’s hard, you spend your whole life trying to get to this point in your career, and when you get (in the NHL) you’re going to have a roller coaster career, you’re going to have your ups and downs,” said Tampa Bay Lightning winger Ryan Malone said Tuesday. “The important thing to see the big picture and know that if you ever need help, there’s people there who you can talk to. Hockey is such a small, small world, but such a big family, so it’s great to see everyone respect and jump on board with the issue.”

Indeed. If the goal of Bell’s Let’s Talk Day is getting people to awaken to woes they can’t see with the naked eye and bringing honest discussions about them into the open with no fear of backlash, the hockey community is one of the first to be on the scoreboard.