Former National Hockey League goaltender Corey Hirsch stood in front of a packed audience of teens in Correlieu Secondary School’s Chuck Mobley Theatre and told them about his deepest vulnerabilities.
The successful athlete recalled the exact moment his life changed forever.
He was 21 years old, with more accomplishments than most young adults could hope for. Hirsch was a part of the New York Rangers organization when they won the 1994 Stanley Cup, and he helped Team Canada win a silver medal in the Olympics.
However, something within was not right. He started having uncontrollable, dark, debilitating thoughts.
Despite being on track for great success, he was falling apart and even made an attempt on his own life.
As an elite athlete, he said he was terrified of appearing vulnerable in front of his coaches and teammates. Mental illness was viewed as a weakness.
He worried that he was the only person suffering and gutted out a painful existence for three years until the anguish became too much for him to bear.
Hirsch said he finally spent some time with a team psychologist, who took all of 15 minutes to diagnose him with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
With the proper treatment and some lifestyle changes, he was able to improve as an athlete significantly and feel more at peace with himself.
In early 2017, Hirsch, who is now a colour commentator with Sportsnet, wrote an article for the Players Tribune, explaining the struggles he had.
It became one of the most-read articles the media company has ever released.
He realized others are going through many of the same tribulations.
“I got to thinking, why wasn’t I taught this stuff in high school,” he said. “Nobody said anything. It was just swept under the rug, and that [way of approaching the issue] to me is garbage.
“If I could have got help the next day, I wouldn’t have had to suffer for as long as I did.”
Since writing the article, Hirsch has teamed up with Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and United Way to give talks to students.
“To me, it’s important to get the message out to our kids because the numbers [of those suffering mental health problems] are one in five,” he said. “So there’s 200 kids in here today. That’s 40 kids who might be suffering. For us to not give them information is to do them a disservice.”
The presentation, which included tips on how to deal with mental illness and who to contact, was well received by the audience.
Seven or eight students waited afterwards to talk with Hirsch one-on-one and share some of their difficulties.
Getting a chance to hear them out and tell them their issues are shared by many has been very gratifying for Hirsch.
“Any win I ever got out of the National Hockey League, or any hockey game, has zero comparison to what this gives me reward-wise,” he said. “To see the kids that come up to talk to me after, they’re kids that just need to know they’re not alone. So, [seeing them realize that] is more rewarding than anything.”