Change Begins with a Conversation
D Jay McGrath
Hockey Player & Mental Health Advocate

Embracing vulnerability and initiating that pivotal conversation can truly be transformative.

I grew up in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, and played my minor hockey there before moving away at 15. Kindersley didn’t have Midget AAA so I had to make a decision to move away from my hometown to Saskatoon to play for the Saskatoon Contacts of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League. I remember the day I left, I knew I was hockey-ready, but mentally, that was a different story. 

Homesickness, depression, anxiety, trying to fit in with new teammates, new school…It was slowly making my move not so appealing. All of my feelings and emotions and me being scared to tell anyone, led me to turn to alcohol to cope at just 15 years old.

I was too scared to tell anyone. Too scared to open up to my parents, coaches, and friends, because I didn’t want to let them down, or get judged.

I didn’t want my hockey career to be in jeopardy all because my Mental health was in jeopardy.

I played 2 years in Saskatoon before I headed out to Everett, Washington to play for the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. I was a 3rd rounder and had a lot of pressure on me to make the team. As soon as I went out there I instantly was battling with my mental health. 22 hours from home, battling with my thoughts and emotions, drinking every day. There was no way I was going to tell anyone, I thought I was the only one going through it. 


I lasted 2 years in Everett before parting ways because I couldn’t handle it anymore. I came back home and played for my hometown team Kindersley Klippers of the Saskatchewan junior Hockey league and in my 20 year old year I got to be the captain. Added pressure, along with my depression and anxiety taking over, made it unbearable for me. A knee injury and a disappointing season left me at an all-time low, resorting to daily drinking, smoking, and suffering from depression and anxiety without confiding in anyone.

After that year I got a phone call to go play for the Red Deer College Kings of the Alberta College Hockey League. This is the first time I’m going back to school, living on my own, and playing hockey. I couldn’t handle it. This is where I got introduced to a drug that almost took my life. Cocaine.

I went on a 10 year addiction with Drugs and Alcohol and my hockey career ended after 2 years in Red Deer where I was supposed to play for 5 years because of free schooling from my time in the WHL.

For 10 years straight I was at an all time low, suicidal thoughts, isolating, hiding my thoughts and feelings from everyone.

Until June 6, 2022, when I finally had the courage to change my life. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I remember I was laying in my bed at 11pm and I’ve never had this feeling of hope inside of me, telling me it was time to share my struggles with my parents. I knew if I didn’t go over there… that I may not have another night. So, I went to my parents’ house, scared but hopeful, and told them everything about my battle with addiction. 

That night was the scariest but best night of my life. I went to their home and laid everything out on the table, from when I was 15 to today. What awaited me was a response that would forever change my life. My Mom hugged me and said, “I’m proud of you,” which was the lifeline I didn’t know I needed. My Mom being proud of me for opening up really helped me start to get better.

I have been sober ever since that night. I am so grateful for the amount of continued support I receive from my local community as well as the hockey community. Now, I help others with their mental health, using my story to show it’s okay to ask for help.

Reflecting on those challenging times, I wish I could reassure my younger self that you’re not alone and it’s okay to ask for help and seek support. Facing homesickness, depression, anxiety, and the weight of expectations is natural. You don’t need to mask your feelings or be the “tough guy” just for the sake of fitting into the hockey player stereotype. Embracing vulnerability and initiating that pivotal conversation can truly be transformative. All it can take is that one conversation!


Now, I dedicate myself to advocating for mental health awareness, and sharing my journey with hockey organizations, communities, and schools with hopes of ending the stigma. 

I firmly believe in the importance of providing relatable figures for young individuals, proving that it’s perfectly normal to grapple with mental health challenges. Remember, it’s okay to not be okay. Speak up! I urge my fellow athletes and anyone struggling to reach out for support. Opening up and allowing oneself to be vulnerable was a lifeline for me.

To Learn more about D Jay, you can visit his website at

Or follow him on Instagram at @djaymcgrathhockey


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