Think Tough Guys Don't Struggle With Mental Illness? These Hockey Players Prove Otherwise.

The eighth year of Bell's 'Let's Talk' Day. How cool is that? The last few years, a good chunk of the pre-promotion has focused on the different ways we interact with one another when it comes to mental illness. Making light of terms like "OCD", criticizing coworkers needing resources to help deal with their mental health struggles, or telling our fellow man (or ourselves) to "man up!".

I wanna hone in on that last one for a second.

Ask any Canadian who the toughest athletes on the planet are. They'll almost certainly tell you it's hockey players. Hell, the Internet is littered with those memes , the ones that compare the injuries athletes in other sports sustain, and claiming there's no way that a hockey player could/would miss a moment of action because of said ailment(s).

So, if there's no one tougher than hockey players, then the fact that so many have them have struggled with mental illness should dispell that whole "MAN UP!" mindset, no? Let's explore that for a moment or two.


First, there's Corey Hirsch, a former NHL goalie and representer of his country between the pipes, too. Nice resume, well respected in the hockey community, and last year, he told his story, one that included being on the edge of a cliff in his sportscar, fresh off of a Stanley Cup win, and very much ready to kill himself:

Corey also wrote a follow up piece yesterday, detailing how talking about his struggles has led to some really great things, and why dialogue is nothing to be afraid of:


Next, another goalie, Clint Malarchuk. Clint didn't just sustain one of the worst sports injuries of all time:

He's endured a life with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ever since. His story is an incredible one, including surviving a failed attempt at killing himself with a rifle. I couldn't possibly recommend his book enough, it's helped me a ton on my mental health journey:


The next couple of stories are doubly prove that mental illness isn't just an affliction of the weak. Because the two guys you're about to meet are both remembering friends that they've lost to mental illness. Teammates.

First, Kevin Bieksa. A player who defines the whole, "hate to have him play against you, but would love to have him on your team". Tough as they come, and he's carved out a career based on being hard to play against. 

The other thing Kevin Bieksa is known for? The fact he won't stop talking about his buddy Rick Rypien, another guy who was known for being tough as hell, and another one who left this earth way too soon:


I don't think I need to tell you much about Dan Carcillo. Another hard guy to play against, another guy who was more than willing to drop them with just about anybody. So the tears in his eyes as he talks about his buddy Steve Montador should tell you all that you need to know:


And finally, who was tougher than Derek Boogaard? Maybe nobody. The guy didn't lose many tilts.

The one fight Derek couldn't win was his battle with mental health. He fought valiantly, against a brain damaged by trauma, pain medication, and alcohol. But in the end, it took one of the toughest guys to ever lace 'em up, or drop 'em. That's another book I'd highly recommend, a biography written a few years ago by John Branch:


So, what's it all mean?


It means even tough guys struggle with their mental health. It means the expression "man up!" is bullshit, to be frank. It means you have no idea who's struggled, or with what, for that matter. It means the eighth incarnation of Bell's 'Let's Talk' Day is every bit as important as its predecessors, if not more. Mental illness isn't going away, in fact the opponent is only getting tougher. There's truth that expression, "strength in numbers". We're better off if we're supporting one another, having discussions like these, and being good teammates.


Rest in peace, Rick, Steve, Derek, and the many other examples from the hockey world that I could've used to illustrate these points. If the toughest athletes on earth struggle with their mental health, it's ok for you to, too. Sick, 


Sick, not weak.