Depression in Professional Sports: What More Can Teams Do to Help?

John Bain@John_BainCorrespondent IIAugust 18, 2011

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 13:  Rick Rypien #37 of the Vancouver Canucks controls the puck against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on October 13, 2010 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

With the tragic passing of former Vancouver Canucks forward Rick Rypien this past week, once again the topic of depression within professional sports has arisen. Rypien had a well covered past of issues with depression, and he is not the only professional athlete to struggle with the mental illness.

While most professional leagues have programs players can enter into for help, a lot of players decide they can deal with their issue on their own and are not pushed to get help. This is a difficult position for teams that know a player needs help, but they don't want to cross any boundaries in the relationship between player and club. 

When a player comes to his or her team to admit they have a problem and need to take care of it, the franchise is presented with a predicament. They can tell the player that they have programs and can get them help, or they can let the player deal with it on their own. More often than not the latter is what the end result is. So the question here is: how do teams deal with these situations? It is very delicate but, in the end, professional help works. 

Following Rypien's death, the NHL is looking into how to improve the programs they already have in place, and other leagues, including the NFL, have done the same in the past. As it stands currently, most leagues have excellent programs in place, it is just a matter of if the athlete wants to take part.

A lot of athletes feel they are putting a burden on those who surround them by taking leaves to go get help and so decide against it and just deal with it silently. Obviously, this would never be the case, but one can imagine how a professional athlete would feel about walking away from a team, or for that matter a multi-million dollar contract, to get help and think that they would not be able to help the team succeed. 

Many people think there is no reason professional athletes should suffer from depression because of their multi-million dollar deals and having the "best job in the world," but remember they are people too, and depression is a disease which has no correlation to the big contracts or having the best job in the world. It can happen to anyone at any time.

Several things can factor into depression—one that is prevalent in sports, is injuries. Players who suffer serious injuries causing them to miss significant time or even ending their careers are left feeling helpless. This has been the case in many sports, but especially in retired football players. 

So what can professional leagues do better to try and help their employees out? They can be more open about the idea of depression, providing players with a more comfortable environment to be open about their struggles if they want. They can make an effort to make it known that it is not a burden on the team, it is an issue than needs to be taken care of for the well being of one player. As much as they don't want to, they need to push their help programs a bit more than they do right now—usually by the time they push for it, it is too late.

Treating athletes with depression is a very difficult task. It is very difficult to treat anyone who suffers from the disease, and you never know which lines can be crossed or the comfort levels of the person struggling with it. Athletes are people, remember this—they can have the most luxurious life in the world, but at the same time, they can struggle the same hardship through depression as anyone else in the world.

The passing of Rick Rypien shows this, and it has exposed an issue that needs to be dealt with throughout professional sports. Treating depression is easier said than done, but teams need to get players the help they need—it saves lives. 


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