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NHL needs to do more to board mental illness stigma

What fans don't realize is that many of their idols are fighting their way through mental illnesses. More needs to be done to eradicate the negative stigma attached to the internal struggle. 

While attending any Canadian hockey game, it is not hard to see purple signs with the letters D.I.F.D. plastered on them. Most fans know it as a campaign to increase dialogue and awareness to mental health issues, but not everyone in the hockey community is aware.

Starting with D.I.F.D

D.I.F.D. stands for Do It For Daron. It’s a campaign that started in 2010 after 14-year-old Daron Richardson committed suicide. The tragedy brought mental illnesses to light for the family, and thus the campaign was born.

While this was a major step in starting the conversation, I feel that it does little to reduce the stigma. There are still conversations to be had about the nature of mental illnesses and how it correlates to hockey. Players need to come forward and say that it is OK to be sad sometimes and that everyone has bad days.

Because hockey is such a physical sport, a significant number of head injuries arise. Some of these head injuries are treated with medication and rest. Others trigger things within the brain that lead to depression. Enforcers are highly affected by this due to the number of head shots they receive. We need more representation from people who are battling depression due to hockey-related incidents.

If kids will listen to their hockey idols talk about their pre-game and post-game rituals and how they think the team performed that night, who is to say they won’t listen to their favorite players talk about how it’s OK to take a break from hockey sometimes to focus on getting better? It is because the NHL is only starting to get better.

NHL unsupportive

In 2015, after the death of Steve Montador, it was found out that he, along with over 200 players were involved in litigation against the NHL relating to concussions. Derek Boogaard’s family was also among those filing complaints.

The NHL responded with a “they knew the risks” defense, but there are risks in every job. Most employers will allow personal time and counseling for these types of illnesses. Not the NHL. As long as they can keep producing shirts with players who are performing and charging high amounts to see those said players in action, they will continue to stand by their decision.

At the end of the day, it’s about the players. It shouldn’t matter who is making the league or the franchise the most money. It’s about how the players are feeling mentally. Instead of focusing on the dollar value the player can attract by continuing to play, they should see how the player can act as a representative for mental illnesses. People will listen. People want to talk. Let the players act as a vehicle to drive the conversation forward.

If we do not allow these stories to be told, we will be doing a disservice to those who died due to injuries playing the game that they love. Steve Montador, who spoke openly about the anxiety and depression he went through after recovering from the concussion, will have died knowing that his struggle didn’t matter.

Derek Boogaard, who died of an accidental overdose, will have suffered for nothing. The level of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) found in his brain was unprecedented for someone his age, according to Ann McKee, a professor of neurology. If he had lived, he likely would have had dementia by middle age, according to a Globe and Mail article.

All of these players who will no longer feel the rush of cold air as they skate into rinks of over 10,000 people screaming their names will have died in vain. We cannot let their fight go unfinished. It is up to us, as the fans, the supporters and the enablers to continue to talk about this, to continue to be adamant on open dialogue.

After all, if we don’t, who will?


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Makayla Peacock

Makayla Peacock is a Senators fan, blogging enthusiast and Carleton University journalism graduate in that order.

Follow her shenanigans on social media:

IG: @makaylapeacock

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NHL needs to do more to board mental illness stigma

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