Mental Health Awareness In NHL

Mental Health in NHL
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP

When it comes to professional sports, keeping personal matters and mental health are difficult when in the spotlight of the nation. This profession requires players to be at their absolute best, all the time. With the growing social media use, it seems that players’ personal lives are available to the world. Fans are able to bombard players’ social medias with posts and comments. It’s unavoidable to catch wind of your public perception as a player. It’s even been known that in the NFL, that a kicker will miss a game winning field goal and receive death threats from fans. This is a terrible look for fans and wears down players’ mental fortitude. Simone Biles recently, during the summer Olympics, stepped aside when she knew her mind wasn’t in tip top shape. She was praised by some, but blasted by many. As she said, pro athletes are humans too.

NHL players are not immune to this, constantly being ridiculed for not making a goal or a good pass. A lot of players have even hired personal psychologists. Even with the growth of mental health awareness, it takes a lot of courage for a player to step aside and take care of themselves. Finding the strength to take a personal leave or enter the players assistance program is a big step. In a sport as dangerous and fast paced as hockey, having your mental space being 100% is a requirement to keep from making a mistake. Mistakes in hockey can lead to allowing a goal against, or a lot worse, you’ll end up injured.

Dylan Larkin

Recently Dylan stepped away from the team after the first game of a 4 game road trip. This really impacted the team, as Tyler Bertuzzi couldn’t travel to the first two games in Canada as well. This left Detroit down two thirds of their top line. With their Captain absent, the team struggled. Detroit Red Wings staff did a great job handling it, keeping tight lipped on his personal matters. This is a great display of how players deserve personal space and respect. Coach Jeff Blashill was quick to squash any media questions, and he protected his player. Larkin returned from his break and picked up his 4th goal of the season. His team’s support appears to have helped him through whatever it was he needed to attend to, and he was able to return to the team relatively quickly.

Carey Price

Carey has yet to report to the Montreal Canadiens this season. He admitted to having gone to some dark places over the last few years. Battling substance abuse during those times. His choice to enter a residential treatment facility was all his own. With the support of his family, he was able to work through a lot of things. His coach, Dominique Ducharme, was quoted as saying, “That’s courage. To face situations like that, the first thing you need to get help is having the courage to admit that you need help, and the support of everyone else.” Clearly, Carey’s team is supportive of his rehab. With them and his family, he appears to be on his way back to competing at an elite level. His display of courage impacts all those who have heard about it, and hopefully it gives someone else courage to seek help.

Jonathan Drouin

Jonathan prioritized his personal health, and stepped aside from the team back in the spring of 2021 when they made a surprise run to the Stanley Cup finals. He later told an interviewer that he stepped aside due to anxiety and insomnia issues. With the lack of sleep and anxious thoughts weighing him down, he didn’t feel fit to compete. Jonathan feels confident that he made the right choice, and he stands by his decision. Comments from the coaching staff show they were supportive as well. He was able to seek the help he needed, and has returned to the team for this new season.

Tuukka Rask

Back in the 2020 playoffs, Tuukka took a personal leave and left the playoff bubble to take care of a personal matter. It was later stated he had received a call from his family saying his daughter was not doing well. Not knowing the severity of the situation, Tuukka felt the pull to go home and be there for his family. The following day, he informed team management, and he left to be home. His team supported his choice, and backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak stepped up to compete in his absence. Upon his return to the team, the staff said things flowed seamlessly into the next season. Tuukka completed his final season of his contract. Now rehabbing from a hip surgery during the offseason, he is attempting to get back to competing in the NHL.

What We Can Do

Support from their teams, family, and fans is vital to players. It is important to respect players personal matters and mental health choices. We all want to see our favorite players and teams compete at such a high level and win. They can not compete if they aren’t sure they are ready mentally and physically. It is our job as fans of the team and players to support their choices. These players are setting the status quo and opening up about mental health. Having people in the public eye destigmatize talking about mental health impacts everyone. If you are in need of help, do like your favorite players and reach out, your team can and will support you.

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