Canadiens Leading the Way in Mental Health Support

The Montreal Canadians have had two organization members enter the NHL/NHLPA Member Assistance Program in six months: Jonathan Drouin joined the program just a few weeks before the playoffs, and Carey Price just a few days ago. The Canadiens organization didn’t hesitate to support them, no matter the impact the loss of these players could have. This is a massive step in the right direction for the Habs, and the NHL, regarding mental health and sports.

Canadiens’ Price Enters Member Assistance Program

Canadiens star goalie Carey Price entered the NHL/NHLPA Members Assistance Program days before the NHL season began. Price, the face of the franchise, was recovering from an injured knee and hip and, while recovering, decided he needed help in other areas. The Canadiens first reported Price being sick with non-Covid issues and away from practice, but as this continued for a few days, the speculation began that it was something more significant. It was a huge surprise when it was reported that Price had entered the assistance program and would be away from the club for an undetermined amount of time.

The Canadiens didn’t release why Price entered the program, and there is no need to, because that’s Carey’s business and not ours. However, his wife, Angela Price, gave an insight into what it may be, and how the family is working on it together. For a player of Price’s calibre to be away for the team is a huge loss, but one the Canadiens are willing to live with for their franchise player to get better. The Canadiens general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin was very emotional when talking about Price in his press conference. He knows how vital Price is to the team, and realizes how important it is to Price, and his family, to get the help he needs to be a better person and player.

Canadiens’ Drouin Suffered from Anxiety and Insomnia

A few weeks before last season’s playoffs began, Drouin entered the assistance program. When he left the team, it was reported to be the same reason as Price’s – sick with non-Covid issues – and social media went wild with speculation. The Canadiens kept quiet about what was going on with Drouin. The exact situation was revealed in an interview by RDS – the francophone version of TSN – and TVA, another francophone sports network. Drouin opened up about his mental health issues and how he decided that it was time to get help.

Drouin revealed that he suffered from high anxiety, which led to insomnia; he would stay up for days at a time thinking about hockey. He stepped away from the game; it wasn’t fun anymore, and he needed to make himself better before continuing. He planned from the start to miss the rest of the season, no matter what happened, even though he wanted to get back as soon as possible. Once again, like Price, the Canadiens fully supported him and his decision. He is now back with the team and reveals that he feels happy and healthy and looking forward to this season.

Canadiens Helping Break the Stigma of Mental Health

When it comes to sports and athletes, mental health is the last thing people think of for players and their health. For years, mental health stigma ruled the sports world, and players wouldn’t confront their mental health issues for fear of being perceived as weak. In a sport as demanding as hockey, the term “weak” gets used a lot when talking about players, not only physically but also mentally. It’s no surprise that few players come forward and ask for help for mental health issues; the stigma and fear of being classed as “weak” are more substantial than the need to get help.

Montreal Canadiens Clarence S. Campbell Bowl
Montreal Canadiens poses with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Semifinals of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs on June 24, 2021 (Photo by Shafique Bakush/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Canadiens are helping break that stigma by giving full support to players that come forward with mental health issues. Drouin was very candid about how the team and players supported him throughout his ordeal and how he was in constant contact with the team through their Stanley Cup final run. This support by the Canadiens could’ve helped Price decide to take time off to work on himself this season. Knowing you have the full support of your organization and your teammates makes it easier to know you can step away until you are ready to come back.

Price Seeking Help Can Open the Doors for Others to Seek Help as Well

The fact that a superstar like Price can ask for help is a beacon of hope for others to start opening up about their mental health issues. Price is the face of one of the greatest NHL franchises in history, and he is also the backbone of the team and a leader in the community. Someone of that calibre having the courage to say he needs help should make it easier for others in the NHL and everyday life to come forward and ask for help. Price is a hero to many Montreal fans, and heroes are put on pedestals and made to look immortal at times. When a hero asks for help, it’s sending a message to others that even the ones you think are invincible are not, and that it’s okay not to be okay.

The amount of support that Price is receiving from the team, fans and other NHL players is also a positive sign that it’s okay to come forward. There are essential things to life other than hockey and the NHL, and if someone on a big stage can do it, then so can anyone. The way the NHL and the Canadiens handle these cases is also a positive sign that encourages other organizations to support their workers in their time of need. The Canadiens and the NHL are showing they are advocates of mental health support.

Other NHL Players Have Also Sought Help

Mental health is nothing new; the NHL had had a few players seek help, such as Robin Lehner with the New York Islanders. He was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 with manic phases, which led to alcohol and drug addictions; he sought help and was supported by the Islanders management. Lehner is now a member of the Vagas Golden Knights and a strong advocate for mental health awareness.

Robin Lehner Vegas Golden Knights
Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Corey Hirsch is another strong advocate for mental health awareness. Hirsch was a member of the New York Rangers’ Stanley Cup Winning team in 1994. In 1994, he noticed things weren’t quite right; he tried to hide it, he was afraid he would lose his job, fearful of what people would think, and afraid of the stigma. Hirsch suffers from Obsessive Compulsion Disorder (OCD) – the same mental illness I live with – and had dark and disturbing thoughts, leading to suicidal thoughts. It wasn’t until 1996, when he was with the Vancouver Canucks, that he sought help; the Canucks supported him, but it took a lot of courage, especially in the 1990s, to come forward because of mental health stigma.

From that day forward, I told myself that I would hide my pain from everybody in the hockey world as best I could, and try to go on. I’d stay in bed, drowning in my thoughts for as long as possible, then I’d go to the rink and get on the ice and have some temporary peace. Then I’d get home as quickly as possible and start drowning again, until I finally fell asleep.

Corey Hirsch on dealing with his mental health from Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, – The Players Tribune, Feb 16th, 2017

Hirsch didn’t know how to deal with his illness until he sought help. Most people with mental health issues don’t even know they have problems, sometimes until too late. With high-profile players like Drouin, Lehner, Hirsch and now Price coming forward, it lessens the sting of the stigma and hopefully helps others to seek help sooner than later.

If you are having issues with mental health or suicidal thoughts, please seek immediate help or call any of these numbers:

In Canada

Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS), toll-free 1-833-456-4566 Available 24/7

Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free) or text CONNECT to 686868.

Hope for Wellness, 1-855-242-3310 (toll-free) 

Or visit this website: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/mental-health-services/mental-health-get-help.html

In the USA

National Hope Helpline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or in Spanish, 1-888-628-9454.

Or visit this website: https://thelifelinecanada.ca/suicide-prevention-crisis-centre-contact-information/crisis-centres/united-states-national-suicide-prevention-hotline/

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