Kaitlin Crawford’s MA Thesis Defence

Title: Reaching out: The help-seeking behaviours of professional male ice hockey athletes

Thesis Supervisor: Dr. Mark Beauchamp
Committee Members: Dr. Laura Hurd, Dr. Brian Wilson
Chair: Dr. Peter Crocker

Abstract: In the last decade, a number of former National Hockey League (NHL) players died by suicide and overdose. In response to these tragic deaths, the NHL initiated several community-level mental health awareness initiatives (e.g., Hockey Talks). However, less is known about the current state of mental health and wellbeing support for the athletes who work and play in professional ice hockey leagues. Help-seeking is an integral first step for individuals and athletes to access the care and support they need to cope and manage their mental health and other stressors. To date, there have been no studies that have examined help-seeking behaviours and processes in professional male ice hockey. A thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with 19 current and recently retired (retired within 5 years of interview) professional male ice hockey was conducted to explore their experiences with help-seeking over the course of their respective careers. To contextual the athletes’ help-seeking experiences participants described different stressors they encountered at the three major phases of their careers (1) pre-professional, (2) professional, and (3) following retirement. Four main higher-order themes were identified in relation to help-seeking experiences among ice hockey athletes. First, barriers to help-seeking describes elements that prevented or restricted athletes from engaging in help-seeking. Second, facilitators to help-seeking describe elements that encouraged or enabled potential help-seeking. Third, sources of support correspond to the different individuals and programs that participants sought help from or were offered support over the course of their careers. Finally, the different coping strategies and self-management techniques that athletes used, either individually or with their sources of support, are outlined. Findings suggest that help-seeking is a developmental process that is informed by cultural aspects of professional ice hockey.