Buffalo Sabres alumnus speaks on campus, discusses mental illness

By Megan Rooney

Ad Director

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When one pictures a speaker coming to their school to speak about mental health, most would visualize an extremely somber and serious presentation, especially when the talk is centered around depression, anxiety, and other heavy topics. But Clint Malarchuk, while recognizing the severity of these illnesses, was uplifting and radiant the entire time he was on the stage. He defied every stereotype that follows those that suffer from mental illness, and even himself acknowledges this, saying, “We as people create the stereotype. There should be no stereotype.”

The retired NHL goalie and Buffalo Sabres alum began his talk by showing the audience a clip previously featured on ESPN’s “30 for 30.” This is a moving video that takes the audience on a journey through his life, from his childhood until adulthood, when his mental illness peaked and he attempted suicide. It describes his inner turmoil and the events that led him to that point, and to where he stands today.

He then came on stage and verbally describes his mental illness, the impact his injury on the ice had on his mental state, how he eventually recovered, and gave advice to anyone who feels as if they are dealing with similar issues.

His journey began in his childhood, at a time in which most mental illnesses went undiagnosed and untreated, when Malarchuk suffered from anxiety and OCD. At the age of twelve, he attempted suicide and was released from the hospital under a week later with no available resources to help him deal with his illness.

Due to the lack of medical or established resources, he began to use hockey as his escape from the anxiety he felt for his home life and for his general well-being. He describes being on the ice as an escape. He used it as a way to positively channel his OCD.

He commented on this, saying, “As a hockey player, OCD helped me. It helped me to work hard, repetition, perfection. I wasn’t that skilled so I credit OCD with helping me work hard and overcome where I lacked in talent. It wasn’t until after trauma that the OCD became out of control and took over my life.”

He continued his talk by describing the incident that haunts his name and his career: the 1989 NHL game in which a skate blade sliced his jugular vein and other surrounding arteries, narrowly missing completely killing him by ¼ of an inch.

But he did not let this end his career or take away the ice rink as his safe haven from his mental illness. He returned to the ice eleven days later and became a superstar in the eyes of hockey fans across the country.

While Malarchuk was living in the spotlight and seemingly back to good health, the reality was quite different. He instead was suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, depression, anxiety, and OCD, which began to make playing the game that he loved increasingly difficult and eventually lead to the end of his career as an NHL goalie.

Leaving his career on the ice, Malarchuk retired to Nevada, where he seemed to be regaining his mental stability and health, until Florida Panther’s  forward Richard Zednik suffered from a nearly identical trauma to Malarchuk’s. This forced him to relive his own on-ice accident and contributed to the downward spiral that would eventually lead to Malarchuk attempting to end his life.

Surviving his suicide attempt, Malarchuk received proper diagnosis and treatment and lives happily today with his wife, Joan. They both travel and speak about both of their experiences with Malarchuk’s mental health and creating awareness for the cause.

This is something that sets Malarchuk apart. A part of every talk that he gives includes bringing Joan on stage, and has her aid in the telling of his story. He considers her to have suffered just was much as a result of his times of poor mental health, and he values her side of the story. Side by side, with witty commentary between the couple, they both confidently share their experiences from the unique perspectives of those who have both suffered from mental illness and the perspective of those who witnessed a loved one experience mental illness, and what they did to aid and support their loved one.

Malarchuk reflects on his experiences, saying, “Being a suicide survivor, you contemplate why was I spared, and that’s what I did. I contemplated why didn’t I die; I have a bullet in my head and I should be dead. It’s like God has given me a chance to live but what is my purpose. My purpose is to help those and prevent other suicide attempts. Help those that are depressed or anxious or with OCD. I always thought hockey was my purpose, but now I realize that hockey is the platform that allows me to speak about these things as a survivor and a mental health advocate.”

Currently, Malarchuk’s novel “How I Survived In The Crease And Beyond” is available for anyone to read about these experiences and the insight that Malarchuk has to offer. Inspired to write the novel by his second chance at life, he was given the time to reflect on why he went through all the things he went through, and how they helped him discover his purpose and understand the reason that he was put on the planet.

“I was put here for a reason, and the reason is to help people get help and not feel alone like they are the only ones suffering in silence. I hope I can inspire other people to get help and be happy.”

Nowadays, the mental health scene has witnessed positive changes. There are more resources in place for those in similar situations to Malarchuk. When asked if there was more of these resources available at the time of the incident, if things would have been different, he  responded with, “Absolutely, we have come a long way since the late 80s, early 90s, when I was really struggling and it’s incredible we have more therapy, better counseling, better medications that work quicker, we’ve come a long ways.”

“My mental health progress is a miracle; not many people are given the second chance that I have been given. The progress has been a learning experience. You can’t go 20 or 50 years not seeing your doctor; you have to been in check, and there are certain things I do daily to keep balance. The therapy, counseling, and medication are all very important.”

When Malarchuk is not traveling and advocating for mental health, he spends his time as a horse chiropractor and horse dentist out of a business that he runs with his wife (and cheering on the Sabres, of course)!

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