The NBA has announced that every team will have a mental health professional on staff and it is time that the NHL follows suit. Mental health is a rising concern as more and more people are willing to speak out about their own struggles with mental health and the NHL has a history of players needing mental health support.
One does not need a diagnosed mental illness to need support. Players who are living far from home where their family and friends are might need a safe person to talk to about the things that they would normally go to a family member for. Not everyone is like Connor McDavid whose mom was able to fly out to Edmonton when she realized her son was struggling. Players and coaches need someone who can help them at the drop of the hat.
Having a mental health expert (most likely a psychiatrist or psychologist) would also allow teams to properly support players coming out of the substance abuse program. If you read about addiction, there are usually underlying issues that led to someone having addictive behaviours and supporting them once they have rejoined the team and are back to playing or even just practicing with the team.
Having trained mental health staff is different than having a sports psychologist on staff. Their job is tied to helping players prepare mentally for the game, compartmentalize, and be the best player they can be. Meanwhile, a mental health specialist would focus on helping them deal with what is going on in their heads and cope with what is troubling them in a healthy way.
The NBA has been at the forefront of players talking about dealing with mental illnesses like anxiety and their policy of having all teams having a mental health professional on staff should be emulated by other leagues. In the past the NBA struggled with how to support a player with mental illness, most notably with Royce White, but their decision to add trained staff to their teams shows their want to improve and support their players better in the future
Another note, the NHL is actually good when it comes to players and drug use. Their decision to not suspend Evgeny Kuznetsov and support his entrance into the NHL’s substance abuse program is progressive and correct. The IIHF suspending him for four years is the opposite of progressive, but more on that another day.