As we’ve said often, the hockey world is a microcosm of the larger world in which we live. Social issues in the big picture almost always pop up in hockey. And the scourge of mental illness is no exception.
On a day when many of us talk about the issue, it’s important that we take time to remember those who the hockey world has lost to mental health problems. We wish the list were shorter, but alas.
Today, we remember Daron Richardson, the daughter of Chicago Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson, who died by suicide in 2010 when she was just 14 years old. Today, we remember Terry Trafford, the one-time OHL player who died in 2014 when he was 20. Today, we remember Blackhawks assistant equipment manager Clint Reif, who we lost in 2014 at age 34. Today, we remember former Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien, who died in August 2011.
And that is just a short, partial list of those who succumbed to mental illness. If you consider the people who haven’t gone public with their mental health woes, those of us who struggle in silence, the enormity of the disease really sets in. And while the hockey community has responded admirably – taking initiatives to make mental health awareness nights as part of each year’s calendar of events – it’s clear we still have a long way to go.
As the deaths of public figures prove, fame does nothing to insulate anyone from mental illness. Indeed, in some cases, being well-known can drive up the levels of anxiety and fear. Mental illness does not discriminate. It robs us of the simple joys of life. It takes away our confidence and our ability to overcome everyday obstacles to happiness. It stains our souls and leaves very real scars in its wake.
But this isn’t to suggest all hope is lost, because that's far from the case. Institutions such as the Canadian Mental Health Association and Mental Health America provide invaluable help in coping with mental illness. Suicide hotlines in Canada and the U.S. provide triage care to those in especially urgent need of assistance. The Do It for Daron (DIFD) initiative is also focused on conversations about youth mental health.
People genuinely want to make a difference. But if we’re going to eradicate mental illness, we need the sustained support of government and private organizations. We can’t be afraid to say that we can do better for those of us who can’t get by on their own.
For many of us, hockey is a respite from the “real” world, but make no mistake – the suffering of mental illness is as real as it gets. Removing the stigma of the disease is a crucial step forward, but it is far from the final step forward. We need to be sounding boards for people who feel voiceless. We need to be power stations for those who feel powerless. We need to be lifelines for anyone and everyone who feels their life has become a burden.
The despair of mental illness will not disappear simply because we all want it to. We have to have a strong medical infrastructure to address it. There has to be political willpower to deal with it. We have to work hard for it. There are no half-measures that will do. We’re not giving up or giving in.
We take these steps forward for Daron, Rick, Terry, Clint and for thousands of others who have no public profile. Their memories are blessings, and their legacies can be the foundation for helping to end this widespread malady once and for all.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, there are resources available to access. The Canada Suicide Prevention Service is accessible at 1-833-456-4566 24/7 or 45645 by text from 4 p.m. to midnight ET.
In the United States, dial 988 to access the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.