Mental health, hockey, and what it means to me
With the clock striking midnight and it being January 28, Canadian telecom company Bell has designated it as “Let’s Talk” day. The premise is simple and worthwhile. Through the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, users on a bevy of social platforms can take spread their support of bringing discussion about mental health out into the public. Each hashtag also represents a donation to various Canadian mental health organizations, continuing the good work of the program. Given that is a Canadian telecom company, hockey players and teams have latched on to it every year since its inception in 2010.
Ostensibly, the idea is to create awareness for mental health issues, bringing them into the forefront. Bell #LetsTalk does that–but only for a day. Mental health in hockey (and other sports) is talked about, but never given the proper and full attention that it does during #LetsTalk. The problem, of course, is that mental health issues do not disappear overnight. They are still at the forefront, they still affect millions, and they are still worthy of discussion.
I feel the need to interject myself into the story here. I have dealt with a form of mild chronic depression since I was about ten years old. Clinically this is called dysthymia, and it is a treatable condition. In fact, there is a whole section of the pharmaceutical industry revolving around it, the wide world of antidepressants. While they can help treat the condition, it can never fully be eliminated.
Dysthymia affects me in a way that does not affect another person. Tuesday alone was a day where I encountered it, and had to process my thoughts and conditions. Generally they are bundles of anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, and sometimes a need or desire to feel pain. Those aren’t really typical thoughts from most people, I would assume. I can’t truly know because everyone has a different brain.
Thankfully, I manage my depression with medicine and therapy. That last sentence is the goal of #LetsTalk: to end stigma about the discussion of mental illness. As I get older, I am more aware of my mental health issues and how to confront them. I am also aware that there are people who are affected by much greater degrees of mental illness. Putting those facts in perspective helps, but I must not discount my personal afflictions.
As this is a hockey blog, the sport should be discussed. For me, hockey represents an escape for a few hours. Wins, losses, overtime losses, those ultimately do not matter. The sport makes many different attempts to recognize different causes, but mental health is often an afterthought outside of #LetsTalk. Some teams and players have made notable efforts.
At the AHL level, the Binghamton Senators and Head Coach Luke Richardson have a truly personal connection to mental health awareness. Richardson, who was then the assistant coach of the Ottawa Senators, tragically lost his daughter Daron to suicide in 2010. An organization to spread mental health awareness was formed, called “Do It For Daron” (DIFD). Two years ago, Binghamton teamed up with DIFD and created a game night to spread mental health awareness. Another night with DIFD-called “Power to the Purple“-will be held by the BSens next month. It is the most notable mental health event in the American League.
Edmonton Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens has been an advocate for mental health awareness, and in a unique way. Mask designs are one of several unique things about goaltenders. Scrivens has a purpose behind his mask designs this year, as they are designed by artists with schizophrenia. It is an outstanding idea by Scrivens, and one where he understands how he can utilize his celebrity in Edmonton.
Scrivens and the BSens represent two very prominent mental health awareness efforts outside of #LetsTalk. Richardson has an incredibly personal connection, Scrivens has shown empathy, and they are more than empty gestures. This is not to dismiss #LetsTalk at all. Bell might deserve some credit for attempting to open up a dialogue and raising $5 million in charitable donations. Then again, Bell posted profits north of $600 million at one point last year. They could afford $5 million out of their own pockets.
Another thing is that #LetsTalk is somewhat exclusively Canadian despite the fact that the majority of the NHL’s clubs operate in the United States. Given the overwhelming number of Canadians on US NHL teams, many US fans investigate #LetsTalk, then spread the hashtag. In and of itself, it is a good thing as it helps out those who do need the services. I would like to see the NHL take a more active role with mental illness for US fans, maybe through one of its national sponsors. Mental health is an important issue, one that affects me, and one that I hope gets more exposure. Hockey can help.