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Starting a Conversation

Welcome to the last week of January. As I write this, it’s the last Monday and this means it can be called Blue Monday. The Oilers are still playing meaningful hockey games and conversations around mental health, mental illness, and stigma. On Wednesday, Bell Let’s Talk Initiatives will take place across Canada and countless hockey players will take part, tweeting out hashtags of support.

But then what will happen? As it stands, both Oilers and Flames fans are preparing for what they assume will be a violent clash between their teams. Both sides have been extorting their desires for a fight to settle the affair between Kassian and Tkachuk. No one it seems has remembered that this epic confrontation is supposed to occur on a day set aside to increase understanding of mental illness, mental health, and end the stigma around getting help.

Why is this troubling? Because head trauma – such as being punched in the face during a hockey fight – has been linked to mental illness. Individuals who experience traumatic brain injuries, again such as those potentially caused by fights in hockey have an increased risk of mental illness. If fact, there have been studies which have linked head injuries to mental illnesses, especially depression. It goes without staying that the effects and impacts of depression can be devastating for individuals. Or it’s links to addictions.

So, you can see how this might seem like a bit of a contradiction. As a society we are both saying the devasting impacts of mental health struggles are seen and validated while simultaneously asking athletes to put themselves at unnecessary risk of having to deal with life long mental health concerns. And that’s not even considering the increased knowledge around CTE and fighting in hockey.

How are we doing both?

The answer is simple. We’re not.

Most hockey players show their support for mental health related initiatives at an almost meaningless level. They tweet out a hashtag, but never take the time to share their own struggles, if they have them. They treat the whole issue of mental health as something that happens to someone else. It’s something they have the utmost sympathy for but doesn’t truly require a change in their lives.

Only that’s not true. Hockey players suffer from depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental health concerns which aren’t always linked to head trauma. They could be linked to stress, feelings of not being good enough or constantly on edge, or just differences in brain chemistry. None of these make them any less exceptional athletes or people – at any level of hockey – but hockey could sometimes make it harder to find the right supports.

Several Edmonton hockey teams will or have hosted events to raise awareness, Oilers included. The Oilers have traditionally hosted Hockey Talks events at various January home games. The Edmonton Oil Kings will partner with the CMHA at their Tuesday, January 28, 2020 game to promote Talk Today. The CHL has partnered with the CMHA for several years to promote mental health and mental wellness in their athletes. Finally, the last weekend saw the University of Alberta also host hockey games in support of mental health initiatives, specifically Bell Let’s Talk. All of these initiatives are designed to normalize mental health concerns and show individuals impacted by them that there is support and places for them to belong.

Which brings me to the last point I want to make in this. Some of you reading this will struggle with mental health. Some days you won’t feel like you can get up or you’ll obsess over some small mistake until you’re paralyzed or you’ll be too frightened to talk to someone because there’s a voice telling you you’re a bother and not worth it.

I’m not going to say none of that is true or real. It’s all true and real for the person experiencing it. The above listed are just a few of the many symptoms of mental illness I struggle with everyday. And I’m not going to say it gets better.

Because some days it doesn’t. Some days it gets worse. I didn’t write anything for over three months because I couldn’t summon the energy to care about hockey. Those, for me, are the days where it’s all a fight.

Some days you’ll come home and cry on your couch and not know why or pray to God to not wake up in the morning or won’t be able to sleep because of a mistake you made last week or because you have to talk to a stranger. That’s the truth.

What I will say is that there are always wins. Sometimes, they’re really small and buried under an avalanche of things which went wrong. It’s a lot like some of the Oilers seasons. The wins are few, far between, and don’t balance out the losses but they still exist. You are not alone.


  • 211 (1-888-482-4696) or
  • Health Link Alberta - 811
  • Mental Health Help Line - 1-877-303-2642
  • Distress line - 780-482-4357 or 780-342-7777