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December 21, 2005 marks the Vancouver Canucks debut for a promising young player & former captain of his Western Hockey League team. On his very first NHL shift, on his first shot, he scores. He puts his team up 2-1 (they’d eventually lose 7-6).
Five years later, this player’s now a known agitator and fighter. He cements this reputation in a surprising, outside-the-box way: after being kicked out of a game (for fighting), the visiting Canuck forward reaches into the stands to grab a taunting hometown fan. The NHL issues him a hefty fine and suspension.
Canuck fans likely know who I’m talking about.
Less than a year after the fan incident in Minnesota, NHL forward Rick Rypien committed suicide. His body was found the day he was to join his new team, the newly-reborn Winnipeg Jets.
Rypien suffered from clinical depression, a mental illness that, while not deadly in itself, too often takes our loved ones like this, well before their time. And if this prong of the Movember movement (guys growing moustaches for November to start conversations on men’s health issues like Prostate & Testicular Cancer and Mental Illness) leads to one less Rypien-like story to tell, I’d consider it worth our efforts.
As a tough guy in the tough game of hockey, Rypien doesn’t seem like the type to commit suicide. Therein lies a big issue in treating men’s mental illness: we men hate to get help, especially help that makes us look weak or crazy. It was the Catch-22 of Rypien’s role, the “under our nose this whole time” secret he kept to his untimely grave. The Canucks made a concerted efforts in the seasons following to de-stigmatize mental illness and simply get us talking, perhaps preventing the seed of suicidal thought from becoming deadly action.
A heavy tale to spin, especially 25+ months after the fact. I put myself in some of the roles of the story: if I had it in mind to end it all, would I? Would my friends be in a position to stop it? What if I was a friend of Rypien’s: would I see the signs? Would something as simple as a timely “let’s go for coffee” have prevented this story’s sad ending?
While I’m far from wanting to hero-ize any suicide, this good lengthy article on Rypien’s life legacy brought up this fruit of the incident:
In the wake of the publicity surrounding Rypien’s death, about a dozen “very high-profile” community members walked into the Manitoba Mood Disorders Association office on Fort Street seeking help.
All were men.
“It’s completely a direct result of Rick,” said Tara Brousseau, the MMDA executive director.
Lots to unpack here so I’m planning a follow-up post with the bits of wisdom I’ve picked up here and there on dealing with mental illness.
In the meantime, please see my Mo page and consider joining me in our fight. Your support can be monetary, but getting that dialogue going about our health stuff is just as much doing the job (especially with Education being a major thrust of the movement this year).