Depression Stigma Needs to Stop

Rick Rypien was a good Canadian guy who played hockey the way Canadians love and did so with a great heart. Coming off of a bad season where he only played 9 games for the Canucks and was suspended for attempting to fight a fan as he walked to the locker room, Rypien was looking to have a new start in Winnipeg. Unfortunately for him and everyone that knew him this fresh start will never happen. Rypien was found dead at his family home in Alberta, the RCMP ruled the death non-suspicious and sudden. As information has been slowly released about Rypien’s life it was revealed that he had been battling with Depression for many years and that this depression may have had a role in his death. For the NHL it was a big hit, especially after another tough guy in Derek Boogaard was found dead earlier this summer. The sports world is reeling from the passing of a great man but this story is not new and has repeatedly been in the headlines of every major sports league in North America. From people taking time off, see Joey Votto or Delonte West, to deal with this depression or the more tragic outcome that Rypien or NFL wide receiver Kenny McKinley, committed suicide last year as a result of depression, suffered. Depression affects everyone and although many athletes are put on a pedestal they are still human and deal with many things that the regulars Joe’s deal with. For these athletes these things can actually be even worse as they are constantly in the public eye with little breaks. Many might see an athlete and say “How can they possibly be depressed? Athletes have millions of dollars and can get whatever they want when they want.” Well imagine you are surrounded by people all telling you how great you are all the time yet not being able to trust them because they might not really be your friend. Many of them just want your money or want to be linked to a pro athlete. Imagine constantly being criticized for every move you make on or off the field/ice like having to get to practice on time but signing autographs beforehand. If you don’t say no to the last few people you are labeled as a bad guy but if you say yes and miss the beginning of practice you are labeled uncommitted to the game. Being surrounded by people but feeling alone and being under constant threat of being moved or losing your job that is why pro athletes become depressed. Many might say that they know what they signed up for but that is not true. Nobody knows what it is like to go through the grind of a season and there is no way to fully prepare for everything that comes along with it. Many players are able to manage through multiple different ways but there are still more that cannot handle the pressure and end up suffering for it.

The worst part about this issue is the stigma that mental health has in the sports world throughout North America. Being a pro athlete means the ability to play through pain and to gut it out to get the job done. So when someone says they have a mental health issue that the trainers can’t see or treat the immediate reaction is to not believe the person. Instead that person gets labeled as mentally weak and therefore worthless to the organization or the league. This is possibly the furthest thing from the truth as a mental health issue is just as valid as a broken leg. The pressure and stress can get to anyone and pro athletes are still human the last time I checked. As a sports fan I have to say that although I am a fan of the grinders, dirtbags, big uglies, and whatever else you want to call them I have a major issue with this attitude of the sports world. We have seen the affects that it has had on the sports world with Rypien and McKinley and we have also seen the advantages of being able to take the time to deal with the illness through Joey Votto. Votto took time off in 2008 after his father passed away but it was not enough. With this tremendous loss Votto came back to the Reds and continued playing. He began to suffer panic attacks when he returned and finally talked to doctors that told him he was suffering from depression. This landed him on the DL due to stress and Votto took this time to work on the issues he was having. After returning from the DL Votto went on to play the rest of the season. After that season Votto began showing his potential that eventually led to a MLB MVP award in 2010, two years after being diagnosed. Imagine what would have become of Votto if he had not been willing to talk and deal with this issue. He may have been another Rick Rypien or Kenny McKinley. Luckily for everyone involved Votto did deal with this and broke through the stigma to become one of the best players in baseball today. So I have to ask, how many athletes have to die before the sports world takes this issue seriously and stops their stupidity of thinking mental health is a sign of weakness? 1 in 5 people in Canada will suffer from mental illness at some point (http://letstalk.bell.ca/initiatives/) and will not talk about it due to the stigma that is related to the disease. Depression is real and it has adverse effects on millions of people every year it’s time for athletes, coaches, managers, owners, and anyone else involved in the sports world to start talking about depression so that the future generations do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

 

If you want more information on Mental Health or you want to help out check out Bell’s Let’s Talk Initiative http://letstalk.bell.ca/

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  1. […] is that there have been too many athletes who have died because of mental illness. In my article Depression Stigma Needs to Stop in 2011 I began to talk about the stigma in sports about mental illness. Since 2011 the problem has […]



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