Conversations about mental health, while they shouldn't be, are often very hard to get started. #BellLetsTalk, which began back in 2011, has been a major success in letting people have their stories both told and heard, which the two together are quite a rarity. It has become such a success, that even some of the Montreal Canadiens players have taken the time to speak out about their own struggles today.

Most of us are aware of the fact that traditional views of masculinity are deeply ingrained in North American sports culture, which values forcing oneself to hold in emotions and show no weakness. 

This past Monday, on January 27, the Habs vs. the Washington Capitals game held at the Bell Center was dedicated to #HockeyTalks. 14 other NHL teams participated in this initiative, which shows a breakdown in conventional ways of seeing sports players today. 

Today, the official NHL website published an interview with Chris Nilan, a former Habs player who retired his skates in 1992. In the interview, Nilan shares the deep struggles he went through after the NHL and how he got himself out of the dark place he was in.

During his time on the ice, Chris Nilan was known as "Knuckles" due to the 253 fights he had on his hockey record. While in sports culture such type of behaviour is valorized, he found himself no longer wanting to live the image he made for himself once he left the NHL. 

"But after retiring from playing hockey in 1992, Nilan — who scored 110 goals for 225 points in 688 career games — fell victim to drug and alcohol addiction," the article reads.

He discusses how his struggle to ask for help was deeply rooted in what sports culture had convinced him was the truth: that being "emotionless" showed strength.

"There's a lot of positivity around it, anytime you're able — as a man — to have the courage and wherewithal to accept your weaknesses, and understand them," Nilan states.

Now, he shares his story with the world knowing that repressing your emotions is not a positive thing, but a detrimental one.

"There's no shame in asking for help. Especially when you know you need it," he told the interviewer.

The article includes one of Nilan's tweets from back in 2017.

The very real words that seep into his tweets are something so many people struggle with, and having a local celebrity discuss them gives many people a platform to open up. Knowing we're not alone in our journey is so important.

This is why the ex-Habs player continuously preaches the value in asking for help.

The lesson that you don't need to suffer in silence is one that the stigma behind mental illness often fails to let us learn, which is why an initiative like #BellLetsTalk is so important.

And today, some of the current Habs players also took to the internet to open up for #BellLetsTalk.

Carey Price

Price, who is a father himself, added "Our kids are hurting and dying too young, which is why we need to keep talking, now more than ever. Join us in the conversation supporting mental health. Let’s show our youth that there are always better ways to cope than taking your own life. #BellLetsTalk."

Brendan Gallagher

This photo, which is posted on the official Montreal Canadiens Instagram page, is accompanied by the caption "Join us in the conversation supporting mental health. Together, we can break the stigma and help create positive change for all those living with mental illness."

Tomáš Tatar

Along with his photo, Tatar added the caption "Caring about and maintaining our mental health is as important as our physical health. Today, let’s talk about mental health! Be part of the conversation and help make a difference. #BellLetsTalk."

Ryan Poehling

Poehling tells us the words we all need to hear with his caption: "It’s okay not to be okay. If you or someone you know needs help, make sure to ask for it. Remember that things can only get better ❤️#BellLetsTalk"

Nick Suzuki

"Discussing suicide and mental health can be tough, but we need to have those crucial conversations with those we care about. Keep the conversation going! #BellLetsTalk," Suzuki writes.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi

Kotkaniemi started his post by saying "Mental health affects all of us. Today, support and help improve mental health care by using the #BellLetsTalk hashtag on social media or by viewing this year’s official video on the @Bell_LetsTalk page. Watch now and spread the word!"

Nate Thompson

Thompson included the caption "A lot of people struggle opening up, and there are days when I still do, but I’m glad and lucky to have a platform to share about my own personal battle with addiction and help others feel less alone in the process. Happy #BellLetsTalk Day! Let’s keep the conversation going," under this photo.

He opens up even deeper in the video below, where he discusses the demons he faced before he sought help.

After facing an intense injury and spending a lot of time in rehabilitation, Thompson says he felt immensely alone and that it played on his mental health. 

"It was one of those things that it was either I ask for help or... Who knows what would have happened," he stated.

The journey to seeking help can be a long and lonely one, but it doesn't need to be. Hearing someone that many children — and adults — look up to speak out about how to seek help and the importance of doing so makes me hopeful that the stigma will break down in future generations — and our current one.

Let the values that are shared on #BellLetsTalk day be ones that we carry with us every day.

Remembering that everyone is going through something lets you open your heart to people and have them open theirs to you.

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