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Hockey player gets honest about mental illness in heartfelt speech

“I took that first step, got help and that was life-changing for me."
/ Source: TODAY

There was no shortage of emotional moments at the NHL Awards.

During Wednesday night’s ceremony in Las Vegas, New York Islanders goalie Robin Lehner delivered a moving speech about his mental illness after he won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy “for best exemplifying the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

“I took that first step, got help and that was life-changing for me. And that’s something we gotta keep pushing for. We gotta end the stigma,” he said to a round of applause. “I'm not ashamed to say I'm mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean mentally weak," he continued, as the crowd cheered further.

New York Islanders v Carolina Hurricanes-Game Four
Goalie Robin Lehner is a nine-year veteran of the NHL.Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

The Swedish native, 27, has been open about his mental illness, even penning a piece about it in The Athletic last September that chronicled a panic attack he had while playing for the Buffalo Sabres in March 2018. Lehner, who has played in the NHL for nine years, opened up about the incident and how it led him to address his substance abuse.

“I was addicted to alcohol and drugs and I didn’t want to stop. I couldn’t," he wrote. "It was true powerlessness. I was aware of the pain this caused my family, but still could not stop doing it. I wasn’t in control of my own mind. It always had a reason and excuse to do whatever it felt like it wanted. I wished there was something else I knew I could do other than abusing pills and alcohol.”

Lehner, who is married with two kids, went to rehab where he learned his issues went past addiction.

“Five weeks into treatment and I was diagnosed bipolar 1 with manic phases,” he wrote.

Lehner said his emotions ran the gamut and had grown out of control.

“For a long time, I always lived at the extremes mentally — manic and hyper-manic and depressed," he wrote. "What that means is the highs are high and the lows, well very low, and the depression is awful.”

He said he has managed to deal with his problems, although it's a process.

“Today, I am here a happy man, that is for the first time, trying to live in the moment, day to day,” he wrote.

Lehner knows he now has a brighter future that gives him the opportunity to continue playing hockey.

“I am an addict that was diagnosed as bipolar and ADHD with PTSD and trauma. I had never had a sober season of hockey my entire career. With those manic swings, I could see the pattern. When I was hypomanic and in a good mood, I was a solid goalie. The depressive state, not so much. But now there is a new reality. I can focus on my career," he wrote.

Lehner is one of many athletes who has spoken about mental health. NBA star Kevin Love also wrote an essay about his experience with a panic attack and boxer Mia St. John has been an advocate for awareness after her son died by suicide.

"The biggest thing you can do is educate yourself," she told TODAY last month. While she has had success as a boxer, St. John said that is not her calling.

"My purpose was this, was mental health, and getting people help and that's what I was born to do," she said.