Does the NHL do its best to help players with mental illnesses?

In the United States, 42.5 million or 18.2% of the adult population have experienced a major depressive episode within the last year. No one is safe from these illnesses, not even a tough, well-built NHLer. But does the NHL do it's best when it comes to helping players suffering mental health problems?

So far this season, two NHLers have talked about their mental health problems, those two players being Nashville Predators' Austin Watson and former Buffalo Sabres' Patrik Berglund.

Watson was suspended earlier this season for originally 27-games, but it was reduced to 18 by an arbitrator after an appeal. At the beginning of the month, Watson opened up about his alcoholism and his mental health so people can understand more what goes on in someone's head suffering from a mental illness. He explained everything in an Instagram post. Have a look:

As my 26th year comes to an end in a couple days, I’ve found myself reflecting lately. In doing so, I’ve felt a deep urge to be a bit more open. After lots of prayer and contemplation, I’ve found that there’s one thing I need to share that’s been a part of my life and anyone else’s life that’s been close with me for quite some time. With Jennifer’s permission to use the word “we” in certain places, the picture above is a note that’s been sitting in my phone for what seems like ages. It’s a condensed version of some words I’d had gone back and forth with releasing as a statement as I returned to the ice. While I won’t go into any more of my family’s and my personal life, because it still isn’t the right time for us and to not create another individual distraction in the midst of our team’s season, I found it only fair to share briefly of my story. Mental Illness runs rampant in the world today. In my experience it can often feel lonely, consuming, and at times unbearable. Please know that you are not alone. There are so many of us who seem to have the picture perfect life, no problems in the world. Yet I deal and I battle just as much as and no more than the next person. I’ve been blessed with many obstacles, traumas and hard times to overcome. Doing the next right thing doesn’t always seem easy, but it’s worth it. Perspective is everything to me, and when I look at the beautiful and downright amazing things in my life that I feel unworthy of, I realize how fortunate I am to be me. If you’re feeling alone today, you’re not. If you feel like no ones cares, I do. If there doesn’t seem to be any chance of it getting better, believe me it will. I hope I’ve helped someone today the way others who’ve shared have helped me. P.S. to the esteemed members of the local and national media, I still won’t touch on either matter past what I’ve said above at this time. Thank you for your courtesy, respect and understanding. On a lighter note I’ve also accompanied this post with Jennifer and I’s beautiful #adidas model. She puts a smile on my face every time 😊. #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #mentalillness #hope #grateful #thisisus #giveback #longwinded 🤦‍♂️
A post shared by Austin Watson (@watson_austin92) on
Watson openly talked about his problems, but it took an incident for the NHL to do anything about it. Moving on to the next player, former Buffalo Sabres' Patrik Berglund who legitimately walked away from hockey while still under contract, making the Sabres terminate the remainder of his 5-year, $19.25 million contract. Berglund recently had an interview with and shared his point of view of what happened between him and the Buffalo Sabres.
I had been feeling like shit. Money wasn't making me happy. I feel much better today. My goal was to come home. This is my start on finding myself again - by seeing friends and family. I have taken help from other sources as well (including the NHL and NHLPA.) Now that I'm at home I feel safer, I can breathe. Hockey has been my whole life. For me, hockey is not just a job, but it is something that I have loved. If you lose it and feel incredibly bad, I do not see at all why you should be losing it. I was suspended for disciplinary reasons because I was not showing up for practices and games. It was completely correct to shut me down. I want to say that I am very sorry that I left and betrayed Buffalo as a team. The players there were absolutely gorgeous and I wish every single player and organization all the best in the future. They have definitely not done anything wrong with me.
Again, Berglund openly talked about his troubles again, but he willingly got help from sources within the NHL and NHLPA.

Last and not least, one of the main reasons the Vancouver Canucks talk so much about mental health, Rick Rypien. As we all know, Rypien died by suicide on August 15th, 2011. On the ice, Rypien was fearless, standing under six feet tall, he would go after men taller and stronger than him. Off the ice, the story was different. 

Suffering from clinical depression, the Vancouver Canucks worked with him on getting treatment. Manitoba Moose GM and assistant GM of the Winnipeg Jets Craig Heisinger, who was friends with Rypien, stated that Rypien had suffered with depression for more than 10 years. Rypien had a big heart when it came to others, he spent countless hours volunteering at charitable events that helped children with a number of capacities. 

During the offseason, he would return home to Alberta to donate and volunteer with hockey camps. Not wanting to burden others with his problems, Rypien shied away from his own battles until he revealed what was happening inside his head to teammate Kevin Bieksa and Heisinger. Rypien could identify with the way he was feeling, but was left confused as to why he felt that way. He used everything at his disposal to cope with his depression. 

Once the Vancouver organization learned of his condition, they granted him multiple leaves and helped him find appropriate medical care. Project 11 was later founded in his honor. 

We have read that the NHL given the opportunities to players that have openly spoken about their struggles with mental illnesses, but have they really done the best that they can? They have the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, but thinking everyone will open up about their struggles is ridiculous. What's your take on the matter?

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