Corey Hirsch is currently at the top of his game even though he hasn’t been in front of the net for more than a decade. Being a winning NHL goalie isn’t forefront in his thoughts anymore. Now, he’s all about taking care of himself and he’s coming to St. Albert to share his message of mental health matters.
Lose the mask, Hirsch says. Stop hiding in misery. There’s no shame in speaking up to get help.
“It’s going to be a great night. It’s remarkable that we’re at this point where we’re having talks and speakers and we’re really, truly doing a great job with ending the stigma,” he said.
Hirsch’s story probably isn’t uncommon but it sure is refreshing to hear someone speak so candidly about the pain that he endured for so long without telling anyone. He opened the book on his struggles after writing about his mental health for an article called “Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark” that was published in the Players’ Tribune two years ago.
If the title of the article wasn’t enough to indicate the seriousness of his anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, the introduction relates the time when, as a successful 21-year-old goalie, he was ready to drive his car right off a cliff. He had only ever dreamed of getting to where he was only to realize that none of it mattered.
“When you go through something like that, you feel like you’re all alone, and you’re the only one that’s got these issues, that you’re the only one that’s struggling with something internally like a mental health issue,” he said, adding, “I struggled for three years hiding a mental health issue until I had to get help for it. I didn’t have to suffer like that. If there wasn’t a stigma attached to it at the time, I would have known just to go to a therapist and get help right away. But instead, I didn’t. I tried to hide it like most people with it.”
Nowadays, he practises self-care with regular exercise, yoga and meditation, even during his rigorous speaking tour that saw him do 50 such presentations across the country last year alone. It’s a far cry from his darkest days when he said he was losing so much weight that he was down to 140 pounds while still being an active goalie. He had trouble even getting out of bed. His issues had consumed him and he was unable to function, he said. He knew he had to get help. There was no other way.
Being a professional hockey player is a demanding profession but mental health issues can and do affect anyone and everyone.
“What you learn is that there’s so many. The numbers are one in five, and I think the numbers are bigger than that, actually, of people that have a serious mental health issue.”
He’s referring to the commonly used statistic put forth by the Canadian Mental Health Association to indicate the number of Canadians who will personally experience a mental health problem or illness every year.
With three young adult children of his own, he said he makes sure they know to keep the doors of communication open with him. They talk about what’s going on inside their heads emotionally and psychologically.
That’s another reason Hirsch won’t just be doing his talk at the Arden Theatre in May. While he’s in town, he’ll be making two stops at local schools to reach out further to hundreds of students who will all certainly be aware of how the pressures and stresses of modern life can get to a person.
“No one taught me in high school or middle school about mental health. The fact that that almost killed me is a travesty in itself because if someone would have taught me about mental health, maybe I wouldn’t have suffered as long as I did. The idea for me is to get the message out to our kids so that doesn’t happen to them.”
Since that Players’ Tribune article came out, he has made it his mission to get everyone talking about it. In addition to doing his Lose the Mask presentations, he also works with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Game Changers program. It works to encourage young Canadians to feel more comfortable talking about mental health, and to seek help and support their friends, too.
Hirsch will make his Lose the Mask presentation from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14, at the Arden Theatre. The event will also feature a special musical performance by Dan Davidson. Tickets are now on sale for $25 at www.ardentheatre.com. Some proceeds from ticket sales will go to the St. Albert Community Foundation’s Youth Mental Health Fund. In the past, this endowment fund has been used to support youth counselling services through Stop Abuse in Families and funding for a Suicide Survivors Support Group through River’s Edge Counselling Centre.
STATS AND FACTS
• Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.
• In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.
• Mental illness affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures.
• Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
• About 1% of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”).
• By age 40, about 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness.
• Schizophrenia affects 1% of the Canadian population.
• Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment.
• Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 1524 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds.
• Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.
• The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women.
– Statistics courtesy of the Canadian Mental Health Association
Mental health was the #1 issue identified by youths in St. Albert during a recent survey. Between 2017 and 2018, information and mental health referral services reported a 33 per cent increase in this city.
– Information provided by the St. Albert Community Foundation