Former NHL goalie talks about mental illness
February 22, 2019
It took 10 days for Clint Malarchuk to come back from a near fatal injury on the ice. But it took him far longer for him to recover from the emotional scars resulting from that injury.
Malarchuk, a former National Hockey League goalie who now lives in Gardnerville, talked about his struggles with mental illness along with his wife, Joanie, during a presentation on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), suicide and depression on Thursday at Western Nevada College presented by the WNC Psychology Club. Malarchuk's daughter, Dallyn, is the president of WNC's Psychology Club.
Malarchuk obviously has never forgotten the day, March 22, 1989, when as a goalie with the Buffalo Sabres, he suffered a near fatal injury in which his jugular vein was cut. He needed several hundred stitches after losing an enormous amount of blood.
But 10 days later he was right back in the goal for the Sabres, making him a folk hero in Buffalo. A rock band, The Malarchuks, and a race horse were named in his honor.
The long road to recovery, though, in which Malarchuk would finally realize what his purpose is, had yet to really begin. "I thought my purpose was to be an NHL player and NHL coach," he said. "My purpose is to be here."
It wasn't until the next season, Malarchuk's PTSD symptoms began to really take hold. That's when he was having nightmares, reliving the injury.
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Malarchuk actually had mental health issues as a child growing up in Canada. He suffered from anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder and at the age of 12 was placed in a hospital for two months.
But he said it was his OCD that enabled him to become an NHL goalie.
"I was able to funnel all my obsessions into hockey," he said.
He also said, though, his OCD became the downfall of his NHL career.
He eventually had his second near death experience when one night he took extra pain relievers and drank a bottle of scotch. He overdosed in his attempt to relieve the pain.
Malarchuk eventually headed on the road to recovery finally realizing what the cause of his mental illness was.
"What's going on here is a chemical imbalance of the brain," he said.
But the long road to recovery had plenty of bumps as Malarchuk said he would drink as many as 25 beers a day.
"There's a huge correlation between mental illness and addiction," he said.
He also added, though, when it came to relieving his pain, "beer worked for me."
But the struggles continued as Malarchuk eventually got arrested. He had the option of going to jail for three days or to a mental hospital and hoping he would receive help, Joanie said she opted to have her husband go to a mental hospital.
Eventually, though, Malarchuk said, "I feel off the horse of life." He then had his third near death experience in which he shot himself in the head in a suicide attempt.
After that incident Malarchuk spent seven months in a treatment center in San Francisco where he said he finally fully accepted and understood the effects of his PTSD.
"I landed on my feet," he said. "I believe God saved my for those who still suffer."
Malarchuk wrote a book, "The Crazy Game," about his experiences. He and Joanie now travel all over North America talking about their experiences.
On Wednesday, before the WNC presentation, Malarchuk and his wife were in Washington, D.C. with Wounded Warriors.
"It's so amazing seeing Wounded Warriors play ice hockey," Malarchuk said.
Malarchuk noted 18-22 veterans commit suicide every day and it's obviously not because they're weak. "They're sick and injured," he said.
As far as himself, Malarchuk said he lives by the acronym ACE — accept it, change it, eliminate it.
He said he's able to live his daily life by taking medication, taking time to meditate, working out, receiving counseling and doing what he did on Thursday, being of service.
The discussion also focused on the need of resources for mental health services. It was noted one of those resources is the Carson Tahoe Health's Mallory Behavioral Health Crisis Center which is located at the old Carson Tahoe hospital.