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UBC study finds pro hockey players reluctant to access mental health support

Players reported fear of being labelled selfish, taking up too many resources
FILE - In this Aug. 14, 2020, file photo, an NHL logo is displayed as Washington Capitals players skate prior to NHL Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoff hockey game against the New York Islanders in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

A new study from UBC has found that professional hockey players are often reluctant to seek help for mental health, even when they need it.

In the study published in the journal Journal of Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, researcher Kaitlin Crawford interviewed 19 current, and recently retired, male hockey players (between ages 24 to 42), 18 of whom played in the NHL.

“One of the major barriers around help-seeking is that people would use the word ‘stigma’ as a catch-all. The one thing most participants expressed was that there was a lot of talk in the industry but not much changing systemically at the base level,” Crawford said.

The study found that players reported minimizing or dismissing personal problems for fear of being labelled selfish and instead seeking help only if it was perceived to benefit for the team. There was also a fear of drawing attention to themselves or asking for too much and “sucking up resources.”

If players did access mental health treatment from a professional but had a bad experience, the study found that negative experiences would spread through the team and shut down any future efforts to seek help.

“Despite several extreme and unfortunate cases, and the fact that they’ve had numerous athletes openly struggle with mental health, the NHL hasn’t really taken concrete steps to provide adequate and impactful support,” Crawford said.

The culture toward mental health is slowly changing within the NHL. Crawford said that there is a clash of “new school” and “old school” attitudes. She suggests much more needs to be done from the highest levels of NHL leadership.

“Some teams have really good people and staff in place, who are ethical and maintain confidentiality, and those teams see a massive uptake in players using mental health resources.”

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