By Brendan McLean, NAMI Communications Coordinator
It’s the roughness of the game. It’s the hits into the boards, the open ice hip checks, the fights; that’s what many say defines hockey.
But beneath all of the masculine bravado showcased in hockey lies an issue that impacts all people: mental illness.
During the month of February the seven NHL teams in Canada have joined together in an initiative to raise awareness for mental health. Each of the seven teamsóthe Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jetsówill participate in the Hockey Talks campaign by hosting a Hockey Talks game night and encouraging online storytelling.
“The goal of Hockey Talks is to bring this topic to the forefront in the public realm and alleviate misconceptions and stigma that has been unfairly associated with mental illness,” stated a press release about the initiative.
The Vancouver Canucks have been one of the leaders in the collaboration. In 2011, former Canucks player Rick Rypien, who had struggled with depression throughout his career, died by suicide.
The Canucks held their Hockey Night on Feb. 1, where members of a local mental health group, the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre Youth Ambassadors Programs, were stationed in the arena to help provide information on mental illness to fans. Wes Rypien, brother of Rick, partook in the ceremonial faceoff to start the month long campaign.
Throughout the month of February, players from the seven teams will wear helmet decals during games. Teams will continue to add to the discussion about mental health by having individuals from local mental health organizations at the arenas and by contributing editorial content online and fostering online discussions in social media using the hashtag #hockeytalks.
Former player, and current goaltender coach of the Calgary Flames, Clint Malarchuck created a video that acknowledges the prototypical conceptions of hockey players and reveals his own struggles with mental illness. “You’re a tough guy. You play hockey,” Malarchuck said in the video. “In reality, you’re on edge, feeling weak, vulnerable and isolated. But you don’t have to; you’re not alone.”
While the campaign is only the Canadian hockey clubs this year, there is a desire for it to be adopted by all the teams in the NHL.
In an article on the Vancouver Canucks website, Wes Rypien said, “My hope is that these seven NHL teams becomes 30, that the league is able to adopt a league-wide 30 team month long initiative about mental illness.”