Former Blackhawks player Dan Carcillo talks about mental struggles at NIU event
DeKALB – Former Blackhawks player and two-time Stanley Cup winner Daniel Carcillo said he has had four documented concussions from playing hockey. But, he said, he has played more than 750 games in the National Hockey League.
Carcillo said each player gets one concussion per game on average, meaning players are getting traumatic brain injuries every time they play. As a result, he said, he started to have post-concussion symptoms, including slurred speech, light sensitivity and anxiety.
“My story and a lot of stories have to do with a lot of mental health issues that people are not predisposed to,” Carcillo said.
Carcillo, who retired from the NHL in 2015 and is now suing alleged withholding of information regarding concussion-related brain injuries, headlined the #SameHere Sit-Down College Campus Tour organized by mental health nonprofit organization We’re All A Little “Crazy,” along with WGN Chicago sports journalist Mike Lowe. Northern Illinois University was one of 15 stops on the college campus tour and the event also included a panel discussion and question-and-answer session regarding mental health awareness.
Eric Kussin, founder of We’re All A Little “Crazy,” said he was a sports executive for nearly 20 years before creating the organization. He said he started the organization after he went through a more than two-year mental health treatment journey after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Kussin said he was inspired to start the organization that helps eliminate the stigma of mental illness because he was intrigued by the idea that, even if you aren’t affected directly by something, you could still be traumatized even if the traumatizing thing didn’t happen to you specifically.
To him, that meant that mental health issues have to be a lot more widespread than the commonly reported statistic of 1 in 5 people being affected, and he wanted to give people the opportunity to tell their own story and not let news media tell it for them, he said.
“We all go through challenges and we all face adversity in life,” Kussin said.
Kussin said he connected with Carcillo through the organization after he came across a video that Carcillo published through The Players’ Tribune, where Carcillo detailed his experiences with brain trauma-related mental illness.
Carcillo said it would get exhausting to feel even one of his about
15 symptoms while running a foundation for mental health awareness and having a family.
“Being a professional athlete for
12 years, there are a lot of ups and downs and I think I’m in a unique spot to hopefully talk to my younger self, if you will, and offer a little guidance,” Carcillo said.
NIU professor Carrie Kortegast, who works within the university’s Adult and Higher Education and counseling departments, said another goal of the event was to make students aware of what resources exist on campus if they have similar experiences with mental health. She said she hopes the event also helps people feel less alone in their struggles.
“There are times where everyone needs a little help,” Kortegast said.
NIU sophomore Courtney Sockwell, who is also a student athlete for the university’s women’s track and field team, said she and other student athletes were required to attend the event. However, she said, she was also interested in what panelists had to say about mental health in general.
Sockwell said she’s curious to hear how the information shared at the event could apply to student athletes, since the general defense mechanism is for athletes to push through their feelings.
She said it could help her peers and even faculty to help identify symptoms before it really affects the student in question.
“And so they can just be like, ‘Oh, she is freaking out because she has this and that,’” Sockwell said.
Carcillo said it’s been easier to navigate through life knowing symptoms and solutions of mental illness. He said he hopes the push for people to be honest with themselves will help them move forward in getting the treatment they need.
“So hopefully, these kids know that there’s always a solution,” Carcillo said. “Hopefully, they use those tools.”