The National Hockey League Player Association has launched an initiative for mental health called First Line. This initiative aims to educate players about depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and self-harm.
Led by a former NHL defenseman turned mental health advocate and attorney, Dr. Jay Harrison, the program is being touted as the first of its kind in mental health initiative in professional sports. The NHL hopes to teach its players to look out for signs and take care of each other.
„It’s very important for me to help my teammates in every way possible, and now that I’m the captain, I felt that it was my responsibility to take this course,“ said Mikael Backlund, captain of the Calgary Flames in The Athlete. „My First Line experience was really good. I thought we had a really good meeting. I talked to my teammates afterward, and they were all very positive about the meeting and felt that we learned a lot. There were a few simple little things that can help us a lot to be really good leaders on the team or just be a good teammate.“
Mental health has been a concern for many (current and former) ice hockey players in recent years. Goaltender Robin Lehner spoke about his struggles with addiction and his journey with bipolar disorder. Stephen Johns recently skated across America on behalf of mental health advocacy after saying he had suicidal thoughts following his retirement due to post-concussion syndrome. Colin Wilson talked about his struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder in The Players Tribune.
This is a step in the right direction since the NHLPA has wronged some players in the past. Lehner has spoken out about the treatment of injuries.
„I was one of the players that grinded it and ’sucked it up‘ to live our dream,“ said the goaltender. „Sometimes our perspective of what’s truly important can be distorted by how much we’ve invested into our craft as athletes,“ said Harrison. „And no one should have to sacrifice their mental health or well-being to be an athlete.“