HALIFAX—Less than a month has gone by since a Nova Scotia hockey player opened up publicly about how mental illness and the pressure of his sport nearly drove him to suicide, and already he’s received thousands of responses to his story, including a call from the CEO of Hockey Canada, which he hopes is a sign of a sea change in the way the hockey community addresses mental health.
Ben Meisner was born and raised in New Germany, N.S., and moved to Halifax as a teen to further his hockey dreams. His skill as a goaltender took him to prep school in Ontario, college in the U.S., the minor leagues and even an NHL training camp.
Now playing professionally in Germany, Meisner spoke to StarMetro last month about the toll his hockey dream took on his mental well-being, and why he recently decided to share his story with the masses in a personal essay published by The Players’ Tribune.
His message was simple: hockey players’ minds should be cared for at least as much as their bodies are. He put a call out to the hockey community to break away from the stigma of mental illness and offer support to players at every level.
Since our first story with the 28-year-old goalie, Meisner said he’s received a flood of responses from individuals sharing their own experiences and from organizations that want to partner with him.
In an interview Thursday, Meisner said it was a “dream come true” to hear from the CEO of Hockey Canada, the country’s governing body for amateur hockey, asking if Meisner would work with the organization to address mental illness in the sport.
“I said, yeah, 100 per cent … that might be a great first step to seeing that change,” Meisner said.
Their collaboration is in the beginning stages, having just heard from CEO Tom Renney for the first time earlier this week. Meisner said he hopes to visit Calgary this fall, where Hockey Canada is headquartered, to speak with staff and athletes about his experiences. He wants the organization to heed his message and come up with ways to improve access to mental health supports for Canadian players.
“I think the more people are talking about it … eventually somebody will come up with a kind of strategy, and that’s why I’m really excited to see what Hockey Canada has planned for their athletes.”
Calls have also come in from Ivy League universities wanting to book Meisner to speak on campus. He said he couldn’t reveal the institutions yet, but he’s already thinking about what he’ll say to the students.
“My message will just basically be (mental illness) is not a career-ending injury, this is not something that will hold you back, in my opinion, from doing great things and achieving your goals. It’s just an obstacle, and you can work through it just like any other obstacle life will throw at you.”
“I just want to really preach the importance of reaching out and getting help early, because the earlier you can reach out and get help, the quicker your recovery can be and the less of a hole you will dig yourself (into). If you wait too long the hole gets deeper and deeper and you need bigger and bigger tools to get out of it,” he said.
Two other projects are in the works for Meisner: as a new ambassador for The Goalie Guild, a non-profit that supports hockey goalies and coaches, he’s filming videos for its Lift the Mask program, which pays for goaltenders to consult with a trained mental-health provider.
He’s also teaming up with We’re All A Little Crazy, another non-profit that addresses mental health and has partnerships with dozens of professional athletes and celebrities.
“It’s really cool to be approached by these people,” Meisner said.
“It’s a little bit crazy that they, of all the people, they want me to help out … I’m just a regular guy,” he added.