NHL: Deaths of Two Russian Hockey Players Brings Heightened Awareness to Mental Health

Photo Credit: NHLPA

Roman Zyryanov, an 18-year-old Russian hockey player, tragically took his own life earlier this week, marking the second such incident involving a young hockey player in recent weeks. Zyryanov participated in the Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod program for three seasons, spanning from U16 to U18. Regrettably, this is the second loss of a player within the Torpedo system in less than a month. On May 15th, 14-year-old Rulvan Bazhenov also died by suicide. The recent deaths have brought a heightened attention to the issue of mental health, especially concerning suicide, and in particular among young athletes.

In the United States, the month of June is focused on raising awareness for men’s mental health, with June 10-16 specifically designated as International Men’s Health Week. The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) organized a panel discussion on June 5 called “Breaking the Ice: Uniting Rock Stars and Athletes in Mental Health Advocacy” to show support for the 9-8-8 Suicide Crisis Helpline on behalf of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. The intention of “Breaking the Ice” was to encourage individuals to prioritize their mental well-being and to communicate that assistance is accessible to anyone in need through various services, such as the 9-8-8 Suicide Crisis Helpline, which was introduced in Canada in November 2023.

“Typically, when people are struggling, from experiences in my life with others I know, different people I have known and things that I have seen, depression and anxiety can be a very isolating thing. There is sometimes a sense of not wanting to talk about it and being perceived as weak, but talking about whatever it is that is affecting you is so important. Just talking about it can be a big hurdle to get over, but the best thing to do about it, I find, is to talk about it. I see it as a step of bravery to talk to someone you are close with that’s the first step towards helping yourself.”

Joseph Woll, Toronto Maple Leafs, “Breaking the Ice”

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has reported that over 4,000 Canadians lose their lives to suicide annually, with an average of 11 deaths occurring each day. According to a 2019 survey conducted among working Canadians, 75% of the participants indicated reluctance or complete unwillingness to reveal their mental health condition to their employer or coworkers. The American Psychiatric Association‘s website underscores that more than half of Americans living with mental illness do not have access to the necessary support and treatment.

The NHLPA, in collaboration with Opening Minds and the Mental Health Commission of Canada, created First Line this past January as an innovative educational and leadership program designed to help elevate the knowledge and skills of NHLPA members in the realm of mental health. It was developed through a partnership between the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Opening Minds, and the NHLPA’s Health and Wellness Team, specifically catering to the needs of NHL players. This program, a first of its kind in professional sports, is geared towards addressing the difficulties faced by players and their families.

“The First Line program gives players tools to create a locker room and culture that combats the many stigmas around mental health. This allows for players to feel comfortable dealing with the ebbs and flows of the season without judgement. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to take part in the course and learn how our team can continue to emphasize the well being of each other both on and off the ice.”

Darnell Nurse, NHLPA Member, Edmonton Oilers

The NHL also hosts Hockey Talks Night annually, dedicating an evening to raising awareness and addressing the stigma associated with mental health. This initiative, which started in 2013, was inspired by Rick Rypien, a former Vancouver Canucks forward who sadly lost his fight with mental health issues in 2011. The event has since expanded to other leagues as well, including AHL and ECHL.

We all have the power to help prevent suicide. The 9-8-8 Lifeline offers round-the-clock, free, and confidential assistance to individuals experiencing distress, as well as prevention and crisis support for both yourself and your loved ones. It also provides valuable guidance and information for professionals.

However, if you suspect that an at-risk individual is in immediate danger of suicide, contact 911 or local emergency services promptly for assistance. Local emergency services provide the quickest help for someone facing imminent risk.

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

Phone: 988
Website: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Karen Zehner

Credentialed Beat Writer covering the ECHL Atlanta Gladiators. Diving into the world of slap shots, penalty kills, and the game we love. [@RunwithK] on socials.

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