Hockey player Robin Lehner sent a powerful message about mental health after winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy at the 2019 National Hockey League Awards on Wednesday night.
Lehner has previously opened up about his mental health, writing an essay for The Athletic in September in which he discussed his bipolar diagnosis and substance abuse, as well as his time in rehab.
“I took that first step and it’s been life-changing for me,” the New York Islanders player, 27, said in his acceptance speech, according to ESPN. “Got to keep pushing, end the stigma. I’m not ashamed to say I’m mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean I’m mentally weak.”
The Masterton Trophy is awarded each year to a player who shows perseverance and sportsmanship.
In his essay in The Athletic, Lehner described having “a major, full-blown panic attack” in the middle of a game in March 2018.
“The battle playing hockey was nothing compared to the battle inside my brain,” he wrote, revealing that the night before his panic attack he had “wanted to kill myself.”
“Since the new year began I had been feeling severely depressed and my drinking increased,” Lehner said. “I was heavily drinking a case of beer a day just to settle the demons in my mind and then took pills to sleep. I was self-treating myself because I could not be inside my own head by myself. The thoughts of ending it all … it was real and close.”
Following the March panic attack, Lehner went to rehab. “It was the one thing I have done in my life that made me feel like a true man,” he wrote.
“Five weeks into treatment and I was diagnosed bipolar 1 with manic phases,” the athlete revealed.
At the conclusion of his essay, Lehner explained that he was sharing his story to “help make a difference and help others the way I have been helped.”
“I want people to know that there is hope in desperation, there is healing in facing an ugly past and there is no shame in involving others in your battle,” he wrote.
“My journey is still new,” Lehner added. “Every day is a battle and each day a new chance to grow as a man. It is time to take the ‘crazy person’ stamp from bipolar disorder. I am working hard to become the latest to battle this unfair stigma. Our battle together is just beginning.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.