National Hockey League promotes #BellLetsTalk to spread mental health awareness

Foward Jared Boll for the Anaheim Ducks fights right winger Chris Thorburn of the Winnipeg Jets during the first period of a National Hockey Game in Winnipeg on Jan. 23. Fights like these are a common issue during NHL games and contribute to head trauma. (Trevor Hagan/AP Photo)

Let’s Talk Day is a day that is designated to promoting mental health awareness in Canada. For every text, call, tweet, retweet and Snapchat geofilter used on Thursday Jan. 26 with the hashtag “#BellLetsTalk,” Bell Media—one of Canada’s top multimedia companies—donated 5 cents to mental health awareness. 

The social media aspect, however, is what made this day special, as it took on a mind of its own. Simply tweeting or retweeting “#BellLetsTalk” takes one second. Athletes and celebrities alike, for this reason, raised over $6 million in one day for mental health treatment and awareness. 

The fact that this day happened across Canada and mainly through social media reveals an aspect that is often overlooked when discussing mental health: hockey.

Let’s Talk Day brings hockey to the forefront. What many people don’t realize is that playing hockey at the professional level for such a long time causes concussion problems—analogous to the concussions commonly found among football players. These brain issues really became an issue in the early 2000s, as even helmets couldn’t prevent brain injuries.     

Sustained head injuries can often cause brain damage leading to memory loss, erratic behavior and suicidal thoughts. It appears that several of the former National Hockey League players that died due to suicide seemed to be the game’s enforcers, or fighters. 

These players are often called upon to take a big hit or to get into a fight in order to stand up for a skill player or to get the crowd into the game. Recently, enforcer Todd Ewen committed suicide. He was known to have said that he had battled depression since he left the league. 

Until recently, concussion protocol was left up to the team trainers. It gave players the opportunity to lie about the way that they were feeling in order to keep playing in the game or to simply avoid the annoying tests. Many players admitted to doing this. 

This part of the game is often overlooked. Big hits get cheers, but they are also dangerous—and this is why Let’s Talk Day is so helpful. It brings these situations to the forefront. 

Now, the game is changing. It is becoming more about skill and less about physicality. Concussion protocol is now normalized and no longer left to the team’s discretion. Additionally, helmet technology is advancing. 

Thanks to #BellLetsTalk, the NHL and its players, awareness is spreading and the league is developing. Yes, physicality sells tickets, but people that were not up close to the sport don’t always know the cost. 

Thanks to Bell and Let’s Talk Day, mental health issues stemmed from concussions will hopefully transcend to other sports players—like football players in the National Football League—who experience high numbers of concussions just like hockey players.