It’s Time to Talk Mental Health
Tanner Mortenson
Hockey Player & Mental Health Advocate

I’m a former Junior “A” hockey player who has started to share my mental health journey publicly. When OMNI Hockey reached out to me to share my story with all of you, I happily took up the opportunity.

I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, and played minor hockey there before moving away at 14. I was leaving home to pursue my hockey dreams at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. Making this leap was exciting, and I was proud of how I got there. Throughout my hockey career, I never made teams based on skill alone; it was always about my dedication and effort.

After playing three years of U18, I made the jump to play my first season of Junior “A” hockey for the Notre Dame Hounds in the SJHL. This was a turning point for me, as it was my first season experiencing severe injuries, including two blown-out knees and a serious concussion. These injuries kept me on the sidelines for the majority of the year and ultimately led me to use alcohol to cope with my feelings and emotions. This experience was incredibly isolating as an athlete and competitor. I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone about how I was truly feeling.

After my rookie season, I decided it was time to experience something new and asked for a trade. Eventually, it was announced that I had been traded to the Merritt Centennials in the BCHL which was quite a shock for me. Being a guy who played in Saskatchewan for four seasons and wasn’t known to be the most skilled player, I had a lot of self-doubt knowing I would be playing in the best Junior “A” league in Canada.

Unfortunately, my time in BC didn’t last long, and another big move was around the corner. After a brief stint in Merritt, I headed to Manitoba to play for the Swan Valley Stampeders, followed by the Valley Jr A Wildcats on the other side of the continent in Nova Scotia, then finally ended my junior career back in Saskatchewan where it started in the SJHL for the Estevan Bruins.

Earlier in my hockey career, I had some struggles with my mental health, but I was much more proactive about it back then. Once I got into junior and started to experience reoccurring injuries, as well as being bounced from team to team, my mental health habits started to deteriorate and I turned to the booze. I would use it to numb my feelings. It was an escape from reality for me.

“… I wish I could go back and tell myself that it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to speak up”

My whole life I was fortunate to have supportive people around me. My mother and father provided me with endless opportunities and made it very clear that I could have conversations with them, including hard ones, about anything. However, I don’t know very many people who feel great about going to their mom and dad and telling them they have a problem with alcohol, so talking to them was out of the cards.

I was known as a tough guy during my junior career, so I wasn’t willing to put myself in vulnerable situations, especially with teammates and coaches. Your spot in junior hockey is very replaceable, so I did not want to give the impression that I was a problem in the locker room. I had some demons I was fighting and was under the impression that I could fight them on my own, and it is clear now, that I couldn’t.

After a brief time trying to “control” my drinking, there was one particular night that changed my perspective on my drinking habits, and the following morning I decided it was time for me to quit entirely. With hindsight, when I think about the darkest times in my life, I wish I could go back and tell myself that it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to speak up.

My hope is to change the game and help others going through similar struggles by sharing my journey and experiences. I aim to guide them towards the right approaches to caring for their mental health. I’ve been lucky enough to have people reach out to me and have me talk to their teams, on podcasts, radio/news shows, and other social media outlets, to talk about mental health. But that’s just the beginning.

“The hockey community needs more serious discussions around mental health.”

Having people come in with lived experiences to talk to about what they’ve gone through to show these athletes they’re not alone. There have been some positive developments but more needs to be done to support athletes that may be struggling with their mental health.

With that in mind, this past summer I wanted to do something for a purpose bigger than myself. So, I decided to do a fundraiser for the CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) Calgary region where I rollerbladed across Alberta (over 700 KM) raising funds and awareness for mental health and substance abuse. I know there are people/players going through what I once went through, I know there are people who feel voiceless and feel as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel. My motivation was to demonstrate that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel, and seeking help brings hope. The journey presented its share of mental battles; for instance, skating 150 KM in a single day tested my resilience, with the last 75KM being particularly challenging. However, I refocused on my initial purpose, recalling the individuals currently facing similar challenges and those we have lost to their struggles. We ended up raising $6,435 for the CMHA and completed the rollerblading journey in five and a half days!

Telling my story, taking action, and starting conversations has been extremely meaningful to me. The struggles I faced throughout my hockey career weren’t easy, but they’ve helped me become a stronger person today. That is why I feel the need to pass on my message to others in the game. We have a long way to go in the hockey world to bring more awareness and understanding of mental health, but there are some encouraging signs. Mental health affects us all in some way or another and I advise everyone to take care of theirs to be the best versions of themselves.


Where to Find Tanner:

Tanner’s Instagram

Tanner’s TikTok

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