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Carolina Hurricanes’ Hockey Talks Night shines spotlight on mental health

Mental health has become an increasing part of the hockey world’s discourse, and the Hurricanes are doing their part to increase its prevalence.

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NHL: JAN 19 Islanders at Hurricanes Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, and whatever your thoughts about major corporations trying to earn public relations points off the back of major societal initiatives, the fact is that the campaign has gotten major traction thanks to the widespread adoption and promotion of the hashtag among members of the hockey community.

But mental health awareness, especially in sports and specifically in hockey, has gone far beyond a simple hashtag, tweet or video view. Nearly every team now has a mental health awareness night, and the Carolina Hurricanes are no exception. Whether intentional or coincidental, the team’s scheduling of their annual Hockey Talks night this Friday when they host the Vegas Golden Knights, in a week where the hockey world’s attention is already drawn to the issues surrounding mental health, is fortuitous.

Nearly everyone is affected in some way, directly or indirectly, by mental illness. The hockey family is no exception. In 2010, then-Ottawa Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson’s daughter Daron died by suicide, which inspired Richardson and his wife Stephanie to create the Do It For Daron initiative to raise awareness and inspire conversations surrounding youth mental health. Since then, the Senators have held a “DIFD Night” every season, with its ninth-annual night scheduled for next week.

The Richardsons’ openness surrounding the circumstances of their daughter’s death kicked the door open for mental health to become a regular part of hockey-related health care discourse, and inspired a number of similar movements around the NHL. Two months after Daron’s death, Bell Canada held their first Bell Let’s Talk day, and the social media ecosystem that can be so destructive and disruptive to adolescents around the world showed, at least for one day a year, that it can be a significant and meaningful force for good.

Since then, the conversation has opened up even more. Just a year ago, Scott Darling was granted a leave of absence by the Hurricanes to “get his mind back together,” as general manager Don Waddell told Chip Alexander of the News and Observer last February. While mental health was not specifically mentioned, it was certainly implied that Darling’s leave was to tend to his own mental health.

The reaction surrounding the announcement was one of near-universal support and encouragement for Darling. Far removed from the years-ago fan reaction of expecting performance above all else, with the players’ own health a minor if not completely nonexistent concern, it showed how much the conversation has moved with the help of efforts like Do It For Daron and Let’s Talk to normalize not only mental illness treatment, but the discussions surrounding it.

There is always room to grow, though.

That’s why the Hockey Talks night is so important and the information provided so necessary to continuing to build on the foundation already in place. The Hurricanes specifically partner with NAMI North Carolina, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Raleigh that will staff tables on the concourses at PNC Arena during Friday’s game. The conversation is moving in the right direction, but the work will never truly end until mental health is a priority on the same level of awareness as cancer, heart disease and physical disabilities.

If hockey is truly for everyone, that means everyone. It means equitable treatment of players and fans who represent marginalized communities and groups. It means fostering a welcoming and diverse atmosphere. And it means bringing awareness to those in our midst who struggle with mental illness, making sure that we are there for them and can support them in any way they may require.

Our game is great, and it’s up to each of us to keep it that way, no matter what struggles participants may bring to the table.

The Hurricanes host the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday at 7:30 for the Canes’ second annual Hockey Talks night. Tickets for the game are available via Stubhub.

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