If you’ve ever watched a professional hockey game, you know it’s filled with excitement from start to finish. These players have to be tough for this action-packed sport, known for its physicality. But what about mental toughness? Or better yet, what about mental health?
It’s not something that instantly comes to mind when thinking about athletes, especially hockey players, but The Indy Fuel, the ECHL minor league hockey team in Indianapolis, is working to change the narrative and make mental health not only a priority for its players but also the community.
To do this, Indy Fuel partnered with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield to facilitate community conversations about the importance of mental health. The initiative is called Hockey Talks, and on January 23, 2024, Fuel Players, Anthem Professionals, and even The Fuel’s Mascot Nitro paid a visit to Hope Academy.
Contrary to its name, the event didn’t revolve around hockey; instead, it focused on sparking a lively and productive discussion about mental health. Fuel players, including Colin Bilek, Kyle Maksimovich, Matthew Cairns, and Darby Llewellyn opened up about their struggles. Students from Hope Academy actively participated, sharing their experiences and thoughts on the challenges of being a teenager today.
The conversation quickly turned to coping strategies for nurturing mental health, with a consensus emerging among both players and students. Enjoyable hobbies, supportive social circles, maintaining life balance, proper nutrition, and quality sleep were highlighted as essential elements. Anthem Behavioral Health Program Director Lissi Lobb emphasized the significance of being aware of available resources, prominently mentioning 988, Indiana’s crisis hotline for suicide, mental health, or substance use.
Conversations like this are critical, especially given the diminishing adolescent treatment programs in the state. With fewer accessible places for families and teens to seek help, initiatives like Hockey Talks play a vital role in fostering awareness. Marion County, Indiana, recently labeled a hotspot for youth drug overdose deaths, underscores the urgency of addressing mental health challenges and the need for places like Hope Academy.
Friends, neighbors, and public figures continue to struggle in shame. But mental health issues are not something to be ashamed of—like any other chronic treatment illness, mental health, and substance use disorders can be addressed and managed successfully with proper tools and resources. It’s community conversations and initiatives like Hockey Talks that help spread awareness and destigmatize mental health issues so people know they are not alone.