On August 15th, 2011 Rick Rypien was found dead in his Alberta home. Rypien was one of three NHL tough-guys to lose his life last summer, creating a disturbing trend that sent shockwaves throughout the hockey community including the Canucks faithful.
The tragedies of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak have forced fans to reconsider the role of fighting in hockey, but progress towards prevention of further tragedy remains uncertain.
As the days approached Rypien’s one-year anniversary, a simple question remained unanswered: are those suffering from mental illness any safer in today’s NHL than they were one year ago?
Depression is a deceptive issue, one that rarely manifests itself publicly, instead secluding the mind to the dark recesses found behind a fake smile. In the macho-man world of professional hockey, there seems to be little room for talk about depression, a disease still perceived by many to be a simple weakness.
“Who suffers from depression? We’re one in eight, we’re everywhere you look. We all know someone who is depressed. Is it the one with the perfect smile? Maybe it’s the one with the flashy rings.
Maybe it’s the one with the sweet swing. Maybe it’s me.”
Michael Landsberg’s chilling words during the must-watch documentary “Darkness and Hope: Depression, Sport and Me,” are very telling of the sports community.
High performance athletes often appear “above” depression as they strive for greatness on the playing field, but as Clara Hughes, Darryl Strawberry, Stephane Richer, and Landsberg himself will tell you, the disease doesn’t care about medals, money, or fame.
Darkness and Hope is a powerful tool in building conversation and comfort when dealing with depression.
Michael Landsberg and the athletes featured have taken an important first step in admitting to the world that mental illness is not something to be embarrassed about, but rather something to be shared and confronted together with the support of friends and family.
As more and more members of the sports community come out publicly to talk about their own depression, the conversation becomes easier for the next individual in need of help.
Thanks to Landsberg, Hughes, Strawberry and Richer, athletes young and old will begin to understand that it is OK to feel down, even if athletically everything is looking up.
Role models like these must continue to create conversation addressing mental illness in order to provide a comfortable setting for others suffering to seek help.
Meanwhile, those who remain uncomfortable talking about their own mental illness have another online resource available to address problems with mental illness.
Earlier this year the Canucks for Kids Fund in conjunction with BC Children’s Hospital and the Fraser Health and Provincial Health Services Authority launched Mindcheck.ca in order to support youth and young adults dealing with mental illness.
The website serves as an excellent resource for individuals suffering as well as friends and family of those affected by mental illness.
Kevin Bieksa was close with Rypien before he passed away, and was one of the few teammates that understood so deeply what the enforcer was going through. As Rypien’s confidant, Bieksa became aware of how important conversation can be when it comes to depression.
And while it is too late to save the lives of three amazing athletes who last summer left this world too soon, Mincheck.ca and other resources have made huge strides in preventing further tragedy at the hands of mental illness.
Twelve months after the NHL lost one of the best pound-for-pound fighters the league has ever seen, Rick Rypien’s legacy builds stronger, living vicariously through the individuals who remain happy and healthy thanks to the his story and the initiatives he has inspired.
Rest in peace, Rick.