Two heart wrenching tales from players, one still active and another retired, show the stark contrast of what is taking place on the other side of hockey; the dark side.
The first was a story that pulled at your heart strings and something that the average public could relate to; the untimely death of a friend or loved one. Dan Carcillo lost his best friend and former teammate Steve Montador back in January. He described the pain and emotional turmoil he went through in the days following Monty’s fate. Monty’s death made him take a long, hard look at how and why the life of a professional hockey player can spiral out of control and so quickly into the world of depression. From reading his words it seems like there is many players in the National Hockey League that are suffering in silence.
The second tale was about the life of an enforcer after the knuckles and blood have been thrown. Mike Peluso opened up his life and described how he has inherited a seizure disorder after suffering through years of concussions from punches to the head. Like in my first “Dark Side of Hockey”, Peluso describes how he would be misdiagnosed – most likely on purpose – to get him back out onto the ice to finish game after game. He never mentioned anything about his mental health but I can imagine it has taken a beating at some point in his days following his retirement.
You could take that quote and apply it to almost every player once the game is gone. It can apply to every player in any league around the globe. However, let’s face it.
You can leave the game but the game never leaves you.
There are many different scenarios to why a player leaves the game. The worst ones are the ones that are out of your control. An injury, family circumstances, a death, team folding. Many things can cause early retirement. When things are out of control though, you’re usually not prepared for it and that’s where things can get frightening in your head. The thoughts that swirl through your mind, like anybody else, can haunt you. Thoughts of wondering if you could have did things differently to still be playing. The anger of wondering why these things happened to you can be soul crushing. All your dreams taken away in an instant.
This is where we need something in place to help before things get out of our hands because this is a major problem. Be it a group of former players and sports psychologists teamed together to battle the depression facing newly retired players. The military has an action called debriefing whenever soldiers return from their tour overseas. In it they meet with at least a psychologist to talk about everything they witnessed over there and to make sure things are okay up there. It may be quite the comparison to make but why can’t teams have something like when a player retires? It’s just an idea and just a step.
The thing is though, we can talk until we’re blue in the face and have teams and leagues implement procedures for retiring players and have systems in place for former players to reach to but that’s just it.
We can’t do anything to help unless THEY want it.
We can’t help unless the players talk. More players need to come out and just like anybody else, show that it’s okay to have depression. It’s okay to have anxiety. You’re not any less of a man or a player for having it. The more players that come out, the more younger players can go “Okay, he went through what I’m going through. He’s like me.” One of the biggest misconceptions is that players think they’re the only ones going through this when it’s likely a teammate is going through the exact same thing.
You’d be shocked at the amount of former players that messaged me from all over the world when I first wrote “The Dark Side of Hockey”. NHLers, and former NHLers explained the things they went through over the course of their career and the ramifications since they’ve packed up their skates. Mental illness is just the tip of the iceberg to what these guys face now. Problems including financial, drug abuse, living arrangements, international predicaments involving countries are just some and you know what? There’s no one there to help them with anything once the jersey is hung up for good.
You might be saying to yourself, “What the hell do you care Ashley, you’re just some woman who’s never played pro hockey.” Well, I may not have played pro hockey. Hell, I haven’t been on the ice in 10 years but my love for the game hasn’t changed. In fact, it’s grown. I now have many friends that are involved in pro hockey in some aspect and they deserve the help they need from the teams and leagues they busted their ass for years for. I don’t claim to be an expert on sports psychology but I know a problem when I see one.
The other reason is to bring awareness. The more people that read and realize the need for something to be done will only put pressure on the powers that be. Once the NHL does something it will trickle down to the other leagues but why should it take the NHL to do something? Because they have the money and power? No, screw that. The time is now and it doesn’t matter who starts it first. Hell, if the LNAH wanted to start something for players and be the lead then so be it. People will be helped.
Professional athletes are just like you and me. They’re people too. For years they give us entertainment in exchange for the price they pay of their bodies. Their entertainment might actually help some people with their mental health. Enough is enough, it’s time to give back.