Seeking mental wellness help is something NHL players still see as stigmatizing, despite measures put in place after the deaths of former Canuck Rick Rypien and other players, a UBC to study has found.
“Despite several extreme and unfortunate cases, and the fact that many athletes have openly struggled with mental health, the NHL has not really taken concrete steps to provide adequate and impactful support,” said Katie Crawford, who completed the study as part of his master’s degree at UBC’s school of kinesiology.
“One of the main barriers around seeking help is that people would use the word ‘stigma’ as a catch-all,” he said Wednesday from England, where he is working on his PhD at the University of Bath.
“The only thing that most participants expressed was that there was a lot of talk in the industry, but there were not many systemic changes at the grassroots level.”
Crawford grew up immersed in sports. His father, Marc Crawford, once played and later coached the Vancouver Canucks, and Katie was a member of the UBC Thunderbirds volleyball team for five seasons.
He warned that he might not get access to the NHL players, and if he did, they would probably only give him 10 minutes of their time, what he found was that the players were pouring their hearts out.
“I was having these amazing conversations with these male hockey players,” Crawford said. “If people think there isn’t a need, that’s frankly not true, because 19 guys I talked to shared with a stranger for an hour.
“I can’t tell you how many times guys would say, ‘I’ve never told anyone this. I only told my wife.’”
Of the 19 current and recently retired male players between the ages of 24 and 42 he interviewed, all but one played in the NHL.
Always interested in mental health and wellness growing up, Crawford worked for a year in suicide prevention at the BC Crisis Centre. direct lineand wondered what players at the highest level of hockey would feel.
“For me, the missing link that I noticed was with all these campaigns like Let’s talk Y hockey talk, who are beautiful and are really trying to get the message across about how important it is to communicate. But as much as we say it’s important to talk and communicate, people don’t.”
He didn’t know if going in would be easy or difficult for a player to approach, if saying they needed help would be considered a sign of disgrace or embarrassment.
“You hear the word ‘stigma’ a lot — people say there’s a lot of stigma in hockey, in the sport, a lot of stigma for men in particular,” Crawford said. “I thought it was all nice and fancy, I understand there’s stigma, but what does that sound like, what does that look like on a day-to-day basis?”
A couple of examples that stood out were an existing culture of silence and suspicion, he said.
“Everyone is supposed to take care of themselves. There was a feeling of, ‘Yes, I know there are people who can help me, but are they really here to help me? If I do (I have resources available), what will happen?’”
Will the news get to the coach or the general manager? To other players?
“A lot of guys said that when they reached out for support, they got burned out,” Crawford said.
It doesn’t matter if a team psychologist actually broke confidentiality, he said, if the perception is that they have.
“You have this resource, which is great, it’s the first step. But if it’s been spoiled by one bad experience, it can spoil it for an entire room.”
She and co-author Mark Beauchamp, a professor at the UBC school of kinesiology, said the league and the NHL Players Association need to step up and make sure confidentiality is strict, and normalize the conversation that it’s okay to seek help. . .
“But if you do, how are you going to do it? And it’s going to be done right, because if you’re wrong then you turn people off,” Beauchamp said. “It’s like the old adage, it takes a lifetime to build trust, but you can undo that trust in a minute if you breach confidentiality.
“I think that’s what we’re starting to hear in player responses as well.”
More news, less ads: Our in-depth journalism is possible thanks to the support of our subscribers. For just $3.50 a week, you can get unlimited, ad-lite access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post, and 13 other Canadian news sites. Support us by subscribing today: The Vancouver Sun | The province.