On Monday, we learned of the death of an NHL hockey player. Being a Vancouver Canucks fan, both my husband and I really looked forward to seeing Rick Rypien on the ice and lamented later in the season that he hadn’t been playing for a while. We looked up what the reasons were and the only media coverage we could find said he was on leave for personal reasons.
Hubby thought that perhaps that meant he was going through a rehab program but I wasn’t so sure. I’m not the type of person who likes to pry into people’s lives, celebrity, professional athlete, or not, but it stuck with me that he was on leave and I wondered what the real issues were. (Oh, did I mention that I once had plans to be a psychologist?)
So, when the truth came out following his death on Monday, I was pretty shaken by it. And even now, almost a full week later, any time his name is mentioned, I fight to hold back the tears. This poor man fought some of the hardest fights out there, on and off the ice. He fought with demons greater than many people understand. He battled depression.
And in all the quotes about his demons, his family and friends use the term figuratively, but I can’t help but feel that if they only realized the truth they might be more careful about how they use the phrase.
The NHL and the Canucks say they used every tool available to them to help Rypien, that in the end, his demons won out.
And my heart writhes inside of me to hear it. I can’t explain why I feel such distress at this passing of a man whom I’ve never met though admired. Is it because he took his own life? Is it because of the battle he lost against depression? Was there something else going on here that no one really wants to talk about?
One of my own personal feelings since I first developed an interest in psychology was that although we have “universal healthcare” here in Canada, mental health care is sorely lacking. Severely, even.
When I was desperately searching for funding to get me through my bachelor’s program so I could continue my education and become a psychologist, there were all kinds of grants and bursaries for people entering the medical profession – except psychology didn’t count. And the bursaries and grants that did exist for psychology students were available to graduate students, not undergrads like myself.
Compare, in 2004 there were just less than 15,000 registered psychologists (having obtained at least a master’s degree but most likely a doctorate). In the same year, there were over 60,000 medical doctors. The government is ready to accept that we have a shortage of physicians, but not psychologists? We expect our GP’s to handle everything, but the human body alone is a mystery many days, hence all the different types of diagnostic tests we’ve developed – to believe that GP’s can also identify and diagnose mental health issues is kind of naïve [not to offend general practitioners, but they generally have a lot on their plate already without adding mental health to their repertoire].
How many times have we been told that our greatest battle is within ourselves? How many times have we seen disturbed children do horrific things? How many times have hurting adults done horrific things? How many more times will it happen before people realize that we can’t just keep sweeping mental health under the rug any longer?
My heart goes out to the family and friends of Rick Rypien. He was the same age as me. And while I can’t pretend to understand exactly what he must have gone through, I do know that I have spent many a night wondering why I shouldn’t just end it all.
Please, if you’ve ever spent a night wondering that yourself or if you know someone who has, please don’t keep it to yourself. Please find someone, hopefully a compassionate and empathetic person, to talk to. Please, before it’s too late, before you take that irreversible step and cause a world of heartache for your family and friends and possibly even complete strangers.