Imagine you wake up every morning with millions in the bank, a beautiful house and all this luxury comes from being an NHL player. You’re living the dream… Right?

Within the last decade in the NHL, mental health has become a big topic of discussion among players, and while many are starting to talk about it, there is still a big stigma around men and athletes suffering from mental health. And many are afraid to come forward and talk about it.

In an ESPN article written on March 9, 2021, author Emily Kaplan interviewed NHL players about mental health in the NHL during the 2020-21 season when teams were figuring out how to deal with COVID. The anonymous player, Player X, struggled with mental health issues and the stigma around it. He mentions he never experienced mental disorder until the COVID season came when he couldn’t go out and do anything and was isolated for 6 months, only doing things around his hotel. Player X isn’t the only one going through this; many NHL players are. ”Indeed, more than a dozen players interviewed by ESPN over the past six weeks describe experiencing more anxiety than usual and expressed an overwhelming sentiment of loneliness.” During the COVID season, most athletes have been stuck in their homes and under strict rules and guidelines.

NHL players experience injuries all the time, but more recently, it’s been mental health-related problems that have kept some players out. Mental health issues have surfaced in the last decade, and because of it being so new, not a lot of people understand what these players are going through. Even athletes who might seem happy on the ice could be struggling.

“I think we all understand physical injuries, but I think sometimes we don’t see the mental injuries and the mental challenges,”
– Elliot Friedman.

  “I think we all understand physical injuries, but I think sometimes we don’t see the mental injuries and the mental challenges,” Some examples of players who have stepped away are Jonathon Drouin and Carey Price, both Montreal Canadians. Drouin stepped away during the 20-21 COVID season and was away for about six months, which was the remainder of that season and the post-season. Carey Price more recently stepped away and entered the NHLPA player assistance program, which was created to help those who are struggling with mental health. The exact reason as to why he left the team is still unknown, but he left right before this current season (21-22) started.

A big issue in the NHL is concussions and while it isn’t exactly a mental health issue, it is one of the leading causes of one. With hockey being such a physical sport, concussions are common and are usually treated with rest and prescribed drugs. Most get healthy and return to the ice within a couple of weeks to a month, but some aren’t as lucky and end up with severe concussions that last months. One example is Derek “Boogeyman” Boogaard who, as a hockey player, wasn’t great, but as a fighter, would be one of the best and most feared. In 277 NHL games, he had 61 fights and in all these fights he suffered multiple concussions. He would get prescribed drugs such as Oxycontin

and Percocet, which led to an addiction. On more than one occasion, he attended a rehab facility in Malibu, California. Unfortunately, rehab didn’t work for Boogaard. “Over the next five months, he’ll struggle with post-concussion syndrome, depression, and a growing addiction to painkillers. And in exactly 155 days, his brothers will find him in his bed and won’t be able to wake him up.” On May 13, 2011, Derek Boogaard, unfortunately, passed away in his Minneapolis home due to an overdose. While some might say the pills killed him, it was the depression that ultimately caused him to pass away so young.

As mental health awareness becomes a bigger part of sports, we have more and more athletes going to rehab or getting help. As more NHL teams create mental health programs and the league itself puts more resources and time into bettering their programs, we will hopefully get to a place where no one must lose their life or feel alone.

Feature photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Penguins
In-text photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports