Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hockey's Dark Summer

Rick Rypien # 37, RIP 1984-2011

Every year, it's inevitable that the hockey world loses some of its own - after all, the NHL has been around for nearly 100 years, and that makes for a lot of alumni.

It is far more shocking when players still in the prime of their careers are unexpectedly taken from the sport, their friends and family, their fans, their lives. Yet this year has had a dark pall, as three NHL players died - at least one by their own hands - since January.

The first was Tom Cavanagh, 28, who played most of his career in the AHL but did appear in 18 games for the San Jose Sharks. Cavanagh died via suicide in Providence, RI.

Derek Boogaard, also 28, known by the nickname "Boogeyman", had played both for the Minnesota Wild and the New York Rangers. Boogaard's death was ruled as an accidential overdose of a combination of alcohol and oxycodone, a prescription painkiller. Despite Boogaard's reputation as one of the most intimidating players in the NHL, he was a beloved fan favorite on both teams he'd played for. It was revealed that Boogaard was in the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Program prior to his death for

On August 15th, the news broke that Rick Rypien, 27, who had recently signed with the Winnepeg Jets, was found dead in his apartment in Alberta. Although Rypien died as a member of the Jets organization, he had spent his entire career with the Vancouver Canucks, both in their farm system and on their NHL team, so despite carrying the "former Canuck" label, he will always be remembered as a Canuck.

The Canucks issued a statement on Monday:

“It is with tremendous sadness that the Vancouver Canucks confirm the passing of Rick Rypien. Rick has been a beloved member of the Canucks family for the past six years. Rick was a great teammate and friend to our players, coaches and staff. We send our deepest condolences to the Rypien family at this most difficult time.”
His new team, the Jets, also issued a statement:

"We are deeply saddened to confirm Rick's passing. As many people are aware, he had strong ties to True North Sports & Entertainment, the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club, the former Manitoba Moose Hockey Club and the Vancouver Canucks. We would like to express our sincere sympathies to the Rypien family as well as Rick's friends. We also appreciate all of the support that has come pouring in from Rick's fans. Rick was a talented player with an extremely bright future. His hunger for the game made him a valued team member both on and off the ice. This loss has impacted us as more than just a hockey team.
After the news broke, Twitter lit up with commentary from players and fans alike, expressing sympathy, regrets, and respect for Rypien. A few samples:

Andrew Ladd / WPG (@aladd16) - Sad to hear about Rick Rypien. I was looking forward to playing with him in Winnipeg. Thoughts are with his family and friends #RIPRypien

Ryan Jones / EDM (@jonesry28) - Sad to hear about the loss of another great guy... condolences to the friends and family of Rick Rypien. RIP

Mike Commodore / DET (@commie22) - RIP Rick Rypien. He was a warrior. Hit me so hard my eyes couldn't focus for 30 secs. Not sure if it was a left or right. #hitmewithboth

George Parros / ANA (@Stache16) - Damn... Rick Rypien will be missed. He was the nicest guy, hung with him a few times in VAN...tough as all hell too. Thoughts to his fam

Rypien had taken two personal leave of absences from the Canucks; after returning to pro hockey this spring, he had signed a 1-year contract with the Jets. Local police termed it as "non-suspicious, sudden death"; News 1130 in Vancouver initially reported it as a suicide and later revised it to match police reports.

A few months ago, Rypien addressed the media about his leave of absence and spoke about how he was looking forward to returning to hockey; he stated it was "okay to ask for help".

It was rumored that Rypien might have been battling mental issues, specifically, depression. If speculation turns out to be true and Rypien took his own life, it shines a light on what has been a dark issue for the NHL this year.

While Rypien was widely regarded for his toughness, he gained a bit of notoriety early last season during a game at Minneapolis' Xcel Center, grabbing a fan in the stands, for which he was suspended for several games. He took his second LOA not long after this incident; and was eventually sent down to finish out the season with the Manitoba Moose.

Depression all too easily gets brushed aside and is not regarded seriously enough until something as drastic as a person taking their own life. People who do not suffer from it think that others can "just snap out of it" or can easily be cheered up, but there are many different levels of depression, and it is probably one of the most misunderstood ailments that is far more common than most realize.

You may have friends or family that you suspect are depressed but find it hard to broach the subject with them. People who are mildly depressed - those who are still functional despite their internal struggles - are very good at hiding their symptoms to outsiders, even if the "outsiders" in question are spouses, family, or very close friends. Because many do not treat depression seriously enough, and the idea of "mental illness" is attached to a huge social stigma, it gives further fuel to victims to want to hide signs of their depression.

Symptoms for depression are widely varied and will often get dismissed as symptoms of nearly anything else (poor diet, lack of sleep, etc). Symptoms may include but are not limited to:
- Persistent sad/empty/unhappy feelings
- Sleeping problems (insomnia; sleeping too much)
- Self-esteem issues (helplessness, worthlessness, hopelessness, guilt)
- Loss of interest in items or activities that formerly engaged the victim
- Difficulty concentrating, thinking, making decisions
- Ongoing fatigue/loss of energy/sluggishness (mental/physical)
- Persistent physical aches/pains that do not resolve even with treatment
- Changes of appetite (overeating/stop eating) and/or digestive issues, especially if they result in large swings in weight
- Uncontrollable crying
- Irritability
Depression also weakens the immune system, opening the door for other illnesses.

Bipolar disorder and psychotic depression (psychosis) can lead to even more extreme symptoms:
- Disconnected thoughts
- Grandiose ideas
- Innappropriate emotions
- Poor judgement
- Markedly increased energy or talking speed/volume
- Agitation or anxiety
- Hallucinations or hearing voices
- Hypochondria
- Abrupt mood changes
- Neglect of appearance (bathing, changing clothes

In the case of people who affected by bipolar or psychotic levels of depression, their behavior may become so stressful and frightening to those around them, that friends/family trying to deal with the person go into denial and/or become frustrated dealing with the victim -- again, circling back to the idea that depression victims can just "snap out of it".

Speaking from experience, you do not ever want to see a loved one affected by bipolar or psychotic depression - and hopefully, you never do. I've seen friends and family struggle with varying levels of depression. There are few things more terrifying than the feeling of complete helplessness of watching somebody you love being a shell of themselves as they battle these kinds of depths of depression: fear in their eyes in their own home; spending their days in bed because they are too exhausted and stupefied to get out of it; hallucinations and "crazy talk" and acute paranoia; suicidal expressions or actions. Being afraid to leave them in the house by themselves, because you don't know what they might do to themselves if you go. Their personality reduced to a shell of what they've been all their lives, and not knowing if you'll ever get that person "back" from the depths of darkness.

Depression is not a solitary disease. It usually takes other people along for the ride.

Sometimes, if you don't see somebody frequently enough, you don't see the warning signals as clearly, because many people who deal with depression are, oddly enough, very good at covering up the warning signals. Somebody who is known for a vibrant personality may throw it on extra thick to hide it. A couple years ago, a friend stepped in front of a train to end his life. We all knew he had ongoing "struggles", that he had a "slightly dark" personality, but when he got too dark, it was like he could sense that he was scaring people, and he'd find a way to make you laugh and feel like he was ok. I'm not sure how many of us suspected that his depression was that bad, that he would take that extreme final step.

Part of the difficulty in dealing with somebody who is affected by depression is that they can easily be in denial about their own condition, or, as noted above, they find ways to convince other people that they aren't struggling. Nobody wants to admit they're having mental illness, no matter how mild, so it may go undiagnosed for months or even years. If the victim is good enough at hiding their symptoms - if they're a relatively functional member of society - you might never guess at it until something drastic happens.

Know the symptoms of depression, and even more importantly, the warning signs of suicide.

Important statistics to note:

- By 2020, depression will be the 2nd most common health problem in the world.

- Major depression (15 million) and bipolar disorder (6 million) affects more than 11% of the U.S. population aged 18+ in a given year.

- Approximately 4% of adolescents develop serious depression each year. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24. Combine that with the adult population, and that means approximately 15% of the population may be suffering from some sort of depression at any given time.

- Approximately 80% of people living with depression aren't receiving treatment for it.

- 80-90% of depression cases are readily treatable, and the victims will find relief.

If somebody you love - or hey, even just like! or even just know! - is displaying signs of depression, don't ignore it. Don't assume it'll "work itself out" or they'll "snap out of it". Reach out to them and try to encourage them to get help.

If you think you can't confront them, get the materials you need to put a brochure or phone number in front of them so they can reach out for help. Depression is common, and it's very treatable. 

 If you need help, for yourself or a loved one, reach out:

U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Canadian National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-448-3000


  1. Speaking as someone who spent many years dealing with a loved one who suffered from severe bouts of depression, I would add one other point: While it's true that having bad things happen in one's life can be a dangerous tipping point for depressed individuals, it's also true that depression may have nothing to do with what's happening in one's life at a given moment. That is, one may be professionally successful and surrounded by loving friends and family, yet still be caught in the seemingly hopeless grip of depression. Does that mean we can't help them? No - we can still make a huge difference, but we have to remember that we - and our depressed friends - are allies against this illness.

  2. Agree with the commenter above. Unfortunately the chemical component can be overwhelming. But like they said, never give up on people.

    Excellent article HB. For some reason it's ok in this society to have Cancer or other kinds of diseases. People forget that the brain is an organ like other parts of the body and can become sick. The stigma is ridiculous.

    And when you go back and read about Tom Cavanagh's struggles he was terribly ill. I can't believe he did as well as he did for so long. The things his family have written about him are quite touching.


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