How Hockey Can Affect Mental Health

Pro players
min - read
Kirsten Staple
Pro players
min - read
If you only have a few minutes to spare, here's what you should know:
Mental health is just as important as physical health and should be treated with the same urgency.
Publicly talking about mental health helps to de-stigmatize mental health and mental illness.
Seeking mental health help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.

Hockey doesn't care about mental health

Content warning: this article brings up subjects such as substance abuse, self harm and suicide. Continue at your own discretion.

May was Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health is just as important as physical health and should be treated with the same urgency. Unfortunately, there is a negative stigma that comes with talking about mental health.

Talking about mental health can be an uncomfortable and challenging experience but sharing one’s experience is courageous because it helps to show people that they are not alone in their struggles and also to normalize that it’s okay to not be okay.

Being transparent and seeking help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. Several NHL and minor hockey teams host a Hockey Talks night, a mental health awareness initiative, which was established after the unexpected passing of Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien, and share mental health resources.

Hockey has made significant strides in the conversation surrounding mental health and hopefully these steps forward can continue for the next generation.

This article dives into some of the stories that different hockey players have shared about their mental health experiences and challenges.

Stefan Kubus/MiHockey
JANUARY 15TH, 2020 - forward Tyler Motte #64, IN HIS Vancouver Canucks GEAR, IS SKATING down the ice (Photo by Stefan Kubus/MiHockey)

NHL Players who have publicly spoken out about their mental health

Robin Lehner

Sometimes taking the first step is the scariest part of doing something uncomfortable but once you do it, it can pay off in remarkable ways.

During his tenure as a member of the New York Islanders in 2018, goaltender Robin Lehner came forward as the first active NHL player about his mental health journey in a personal essay published by The Athletic. In this piece, Lehner publicly revealed that he was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and experienced a substance use disorder throughout his playing career.

As an active player, Lehner did not have to put it out there that he has a mental illness and share his struggles with the world but he bravely chose to tell his story. In his own words, Lehner expressed that “we have to try to help each other, and it all comes back to education and being open. And that's why I talk about it [mental health].”

Lehner would later speak to The Hockey News in January 2021 about how life has changed after speaking about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and how his coaches and teammates were more empathetic in learning more about his story.

Tyler Motte

Lehner coming forward about his mental health experience was used as a catalyst of inspiration for NHL forward Tyler Motte to share his story.

After hearing Lehner’s story, Motte told ESPN that he felt “empowered, feeling like it takes courage to just share what's going on, on such a personal deep level” and that led him to share with a Vancouver Canucks team doctor that he had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression during the summer of 2019.

After that moment, Motte became more comfortable with talking about his experience living with anxiety and depression. In the same interview with ESPN, Motte recognizes the discomfort that comes with talking about mental health but to him, that awkward discussion is worth it and he still shares his story in order to help others.

Slater Koekkoek

After stepping away from hockey for mental health reasons in 2022, former NHL defenseman Slater Koekkoek announced in a LinkedIn post that the reason why he stopped playing hockey was because his anxiety had worsened to the point that it was affecting his ability to eat.

In his post, Koekkoek reminds the reader that they are not alone in their struggles with anxiety and for people to be kind to each other because we never know what someone else might be going through behind the scenes.

Colin Wilson

According to the National Institute of Health, there is a connection between substance use, addiction, and mental illness. Simply put, addiction is a disease and should be treated with the same care and compassion as other diseases.

Retired NHL forward Colin Wilson experienced this connection directly.

In two The Players’ Tribune pieces, Wilson revealed that throughout his hockey career, he was quietly living with untreated Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and drug addiction at the same time. Wilson credits the NHL and the NHLPA’s Player Assistance Program for helping him and other players who have a mental illness. Wilson recognizes the toll and negative outcomes that come from substance abuse and wants to make a difference when it comes to mental health.

At the end of one of his Players’ Tribune pieces, Wilson reminds anyone going through a difficult time to be kind to themselves and their mind, have patience with their body and soul and know that they don’t have to face their challenges alone.

Riley Sheahan

To those in the hockey world, Riley Sheahan may still be best known for being arrested for underage drunk driving on Halloween weekend in 2012. For Sheahan, a former NHL forward, that arrest was life-changing because it led him to reach out for help with his anxiety and relationship with alcohol. Sheahan was later diagnosed with depression and began sharing his story as a way to help people through their mental health journey.

In 2021, Sheahan started a mental health podcast called ‘Speak Your Mind’ alongside Humboldt Broncos’ bus crash survivor and mental health advocate, Tyler Smith. Sheahan and Smith share their personal experiences with mental health and interview others from sports, entertainment, and other industries to discuss their mental health experiences to show people that they are not alone in their mental health struggles and to also bring mental health awareness.

Nate Thompson

In October 2016, while recovering from an injury, former NHL forward Nate Thompson decided to end the cycle of addiction in his life. In an interview with Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson, Thompson revealed he experienced prolonged alcohol and substance abuse throughout his adolescent and teen years, which followed him into his hockey career.

Choosing sobriety was not an easy task for Thompson but he realized that through his addiction, he was not only just hurting himself but also his loved ones, so he decided to make a change in his life. Thompson eventually sought out professional help and has been sober since 2016. Sobriety has provided Thompson with a new outlook on life and he reflected with the Montreal Gazette that sharing his story is something that can help people and he sees that as a win.

Corey Hirsch

In three separate articles for The Players’ Tribune, retired NHL goaltender Corey Hirsch shares his story of mental illness.

In his first article, titled “Dark, Dark, Dark…”, Hirsch shares how he had it all — an Olympic silver medal, a girlfriend, a nice sports car, and even drunk out of the Stanley Cup as a member of the 1994 New York Rangers organization — but underneath it all, he was silently unhappy. Hirsch revealed that he began experiencing negative, dark thoughts in early 1994 and was later diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). After his first article was released in 2017, Hirsch began contributing more content to The Players’ Tribune and became a co-host for a podcast that focuses on athletes sharing their mental health experiences for the platform.

In one article, Hirsch reminds his male readers that asking for help doesn’t make them any less of a “man” and in another article, he encourages all readers to see a doctor and get diagnosed because that decision can have a tremendous impact on their life.
One of the common themes throughout Hirsch’s content is that people are not alone in their mental health experiences, mental illness is not a sign of weakness and that being open and vulnerable is a sign of strength.

Nick Boynton

Retired NHL player Nick Boynton didn’t have a highlight-reel career but despite making it to the league, he was struggling behind the scenes with depression, anxiety and substance abuse that stemmed from the pain associated with his role as an enforcer.

Boynton expressed in a piece for The Players’ Tribune that he didn’t like to fight but fighting brought in money which he needed to survive. Boynton revealed that despite becoming sober and getting treatment for his mental health, he still struggles with depression but is hopeful for change in hockey. Since retirement, Boynton has become an advocate for hockey’s treatment of head trauma and mental health issues.

Carey Price

According to an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Indigenous peoples tend to be in poorer health than non-Indigenous peoples and are disproportionally affected by substance abuse.

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, who is of Ulkatcho First Nation descent, felt these affects firsthand in his personal life. In 2021, Price voluntarily entered the NHLPA’s Player Assistance Program to seek treatment for substance abuse. In an interview with The Athletic, Price admits that he chose to come forward about his journey because he wanted to lead by example to those who look up to him and show that it’s okay to reach out for help.

BERLIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 10: Ben Meisner of the Augsburger Panther during the game between the Eisbaeren Berlin and Augsburger Panther on January 10, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Mathias Renner/City-Press via Getty Images)

Hockey players who have publicly spoken out about their mental health

Kendra Fisher

In a Players’ Tribune piece, former NWHL player Kendra Fisher shares her mental health journey.

Fisher begins her written journey with explaining that she experienced so many panic episodes and obsessive thoughts when she was younger but hockey was her escape from that. Unfortunately, those episodes and thoughts began to seep into Fisher’s ability to play hockey.

After re-visiting her former psychologist, Fisher was diagnosed with generalized anxiety, severe panic disorder, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and clinical depression.

Getting help allowed Fisher to take control of her mental health and discover what coping mechanisms work best for her and she eventually returned to play hockey. At the end of her piece, Fisher reminds the reader that:

We [people, society] need to learn how to reach out and give someone a hug, or hold somebody’s hand, or just let others know that they know that mental illness is real and that we’re not going to let them be alone with whatever thoughts are troubling them.”

Ben Meisner (Content warning: suicide)

Ben Meisner never played in the NHL and was a goaltender for Freiburg EHC, a team in Germany’s second division. In a personal essay published by The Players’ Tribune, Meisner shares his story to shed light on mental health issues in hockey that are not only limited to the NHL.

Meisner, who was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), writes about how minor league hockey players have stress about their job security and how he kept quiet about his mental health journey in order to maintain his career. After almost attempting suicide, Meisner reached out for help and in his own words, seeking help saved his life. Since then, Meisner developed a new hopeful perspective on life and sees every day as a blessing.

Other players who have shared their mental health experiences

Clint Malarchuk (Content warning: suicide), Luke Prokop, Bobby Ryan, Scott Darling, Rich Clune, Daniel Carcillo, Austin Watson, Stephen Johns, Sam Poulin and Brady Leavold.

If you or someone you know needs mental health help or is experiencing a mental health crisis, please visit (U.S) or (Canada) for resources.

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