By Scott Billeck – @scottbilleck
It is an issue that has no preferences. Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, promoting awareness of mental health issues that affect everyone, in pro sports and with your hometown Winnipeg Jets.
It’s not an easy subject to talk about by any means, but the tragedies that have struck the National Hockey League in recent years have driven the issue to the forefront of the culture that encompasses the game.
“I think it is extremely important to bring awareness to mental health,” said Mark Stuart. “It is an issue that has a stigma attached to it and doesn’t get talked about a lot. It is unfortunate that we have experienced some hardships in the past.”
Those hardships include forever-Winnipeg Jet Rick Rypien, who will be honoured tonight as each Jets player will wear his No. 11 jersey during warmups.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, what kind of family you come from, what kind of personality you have – anyone can be affected by mental health issues,” stated Stuart. “If you look at a guy like Rick, a hard-nosed guy that everything I heard about him, I know I would have really enjoyed playing with him. (He) was a guy who came to work every day and worked hard and was a tough, tough guy.
“So anybody, it doesn’t matter who you are, can be affected by these issues. So we have to be comfortable talking about them.”
It’s not the first day hockey has devoted to mental health and will surely not be the last. Stuart says that the subject has lost a lot of the awkwardness attached to it over the past four years.
“I think the NHL and the NHLPA have done a great job of putting avenues in place for players to speak to people,” said Stuart. “You don’t have to make it known to your teammates if you don’t want to, there are plenty of options out there.”
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice said that his daughter attended a function for Daron Richardson, the 14-year-old girl who tragically took her life back in 2010. Daron is the daughter of former NHLer and current AHL head coach Luke Richardson.
“I think that anytime in pro sports, certainly hockey — male-dominated, masculine, macho sports — can reach out to areas in everyone’s lives, normal every day people, professional athletes and show that it is not a weakness, it’s a awareness of the frailties of all people,” said Maurice.
With the statistic that one-in-five people will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime, Maurice made it known that NHL players are regular human beings as well and experience no immunity to the illness.
“It is in our sport, our sport is made of human beings, and when they see someone who’s played professional sports — especially the physical roll players — when they open up and talk about that it makes it okay, especially for young people.
“When they can say that this is something that needs to be looked at and you can ask for help and it doesn’t mean you are weak – it means you have the strength to ask for help. I think that is a great role and one of the fine things, one of the important things you do in pro sports.”
If you are someone struggling with depression, please take a moment to read my story. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
You are not alone.