Suicide does not discriminate. Just ask Clint Malarchuk, former National Hockey League goaltender, who struggled not only with suicide, but also depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Because June is Men’s Health Month, Malarchuk continues to share his personal story with other men and encourages them to speak up and take control of their mental health.
“I believe that I survived to prevent somebody else from making the same mistake I did, and what I tell them is this: Reach out and get help,” says Malarchuk, who suffered a near-fatal injury while playing for the Buffalo Sabres in 1989.
The former goaltender has teamed up with HealthyMenMichigan.org and Jodi Jacobson Frey, PhD, MSW, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, in a statewide campaign designed to engage working-aged Michigan men in online screening for suicide and depression and to encourage help-seeking behaviors and referral to treatment. Frey is the principal investigator for this research study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Nationwide, suicide accounted for 44,965 deaths in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports. A recent article in The Washington Post reports suicide rates are increasing nationwide and especially increasing in rural areas. In Michigan, where suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death, the 10 counties with the highest rates of suicide deaths are rural: Alcona, Ontonagon, Oscoda, Lake, Iron, Schoolcraft, Mackinac, Gogebic, Roscommon, and Iosco.
“We are losing too many people to suicide and as a country we have been slow to focus our attention on working-aged adults, particularly men (ages 25-64) who account for 40 percent of suicide deaths in the country,” Frey says. HealthyMenMichigan.org delivers gender-specific, web-based mental health education and online support services to this hard-to-reach population. Men can complete a free online screening and potentially be invited to participate in a voluntary and paid research study. Results from the study will inform the field about the effectiveness of innovative online programs designed to engage working-aged men in suicide help-seeking behavior.
Over the last several years, many current and former professional athletes, including Malarchuk, often seen as role models for working-aged men, have shared their personal experiences of dealing with and recovering from a mental health problem and/or suicide in an effort to break down stigma and raise awareness of mental health and well-being.
As members of a sport that has seen several players die by suicide, hockey players are joining together to bring awareness to suicide and mental health. Hockey Talks, an initiative that encourages a conversation about mental health by bringing awareness, increasing dialogue surrounding stigma and offering effective treatment and resources, is supported by nine NHL teams that dedicate one game night a month to bringing awareness to mental health.
Malarchuk shared his experiences with OCD and depression in his autobiograpy, A Matter of Inches — How I Survived in the Crease And Beyond. He recently shared this call to action for men living in Michigan:
I grew up on the same outdoor rinks as many in Michigan did. My freedom was on those rinks. I mean mental freedom. I had bad anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, even as a kid. As I got older, I struggled mightily with depression and anxiety. I felt just lost, but not on that ice — that was freedom.
My claim to fame was getting my jugular vein sliced while playing for the Buffalo Sabres and almost bleeding out. Dealing, in silence, with the after-effects of this led me to self-medicate with alcohol and later attempt suicide.
I’m so grateful to be alive. I have not yet met a suicide survivor that can’t say the same.
In my recovery, I have been able to tell my story and heal through telling it. I’ve met many a man dealing with the same things I went through and I am amazed how many men have heard my story and say ... “That’s me.”
Websites like HealthyMenMichigan.org provide men with resources and information and can help saves lives. I know I should have reached out for help, but I thought I was the only one. Today, I know different.
Men, you are not alone in this. There is a team of us men that struggle, so let’s team up!
Clint’s wife, Joanie Malarchuk, also urges men to help break down the stigma by talking to others about what’s going on. She says, “As the wife of a mental health sufferer that led to a suicide attempt, I have seen the torment and struggle that my husband put himself through ‘suffering in silence.’ Please, reach out, talk to someone — don’t suffer alone. If we all encourage one person to speak up, we can help get rid of the stigma.”
To date, more than 4,700 individuals have taken the online screening at HealthyMenMichigan.org, and of those in the study demographic (men between 25 and 64 years old), more than 60 percent report some risk for suicide ideation or behavior. This staggering statistic solidifies why programs like HealthyMenMichigan.org are so critical in working with partners throughout the state to break down stigma and other barriers and get help to men who need it the most.
“Our programs are only as good as we can get people to know about them and to use them,” Frey says. “Access to information, support services, and community-based resources are critical, but to encourage men to engage in help-seeking behaviors, we need to work collectively to break down stigma regarding mental health and mental health problems.”
Men’s Health Month and Father’s Day make June an excellent time for people throughout Michigan, and the country, to take an active role in supporting the men in their lives by encouraging them to take an online screening such as the one offered at HealthyMenMichigan.org. It is a free gift that shows you care about helping men to focus on their health and emotional well-being.
Visit HealthyMenMichigan.org and malarchuk.com for more information.
To arrange an interview with Clint Malarchuk or Jodi Jacobson Frey, please contact University of Maryland, Baltimore Media Relations Specialist Mary T. Phelan at 443-615-5810 or firstname.lastname@example.org.