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Former-NHL goalie talks mental health with Manitoba construction

Peter Caulfield
Former-NHL goalie talks mental health with Manitoba construction
Corey Hirsch

Retired Vancouver Canucks goalie and mental health advocate Corey Hirsch is coming to Winnipeg to talk about the emotional and psychological challenges facing construction workers.

Hirsch’s presentation takes place on the morning of May 9 at the Inn at the Forks hotel, near the centre of Winnipeg.

He said the mental health challenges in construction are much the same as those in professional hockey.

“Both construction and hockey have macho cultures,” said Hirsch. “You’re expected to deal with any personal problems by yourself and only after you’ve finished your shift.”

In his playing days Hirsch struggled with his mental health. When panic attacks and severe weight loss made it impossible for him to keep going, he asked his team trainer for help.

Fortunately, his story has a happy ending. A medical specialist diagnosed him with obsessive compulsive disorder and he was able to get the treatment he needed.

Hirsch’s talk is being sponsored by the Merit Contractors Association of Manitoba in partnership with the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of BC (ICBA).

This will be the second time Hirsch has spoken in Winnipeg.

“Corey spoke to us in late 2022,” said Merit Manitoba president Yvette Milner. “It was well received.”

In addition to Hirsch, addictions specialist Joel Gervais will be speaking as well as a representative of Merit Manitoba’s Employee Assistance Plan provider.

“Corey has a very good story to tell and our other speakers offer resources to our members,” said Milner. “We know mental health is an issue in all industries but specifically in construction and we want to provide some attention to it in Manitoba.”

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An ICBA Wellness Ambassador since 2022, Hirsch’s presentations are part of the association’s Workplace Wellness program.

“I’ve spoken to at least 5,000 people since last year,” said Hirsch. “I talk for an hour, mixing in hockey with my mental health message. I know I’m making an impact because many people have come up to me after my presentations and told me their personal stories of struggle and pain.”

Hirsch recently took his mental health message to Ontario. He spoke to 140 people in Burlington on Feb. 28, and to 80 people in St. Jacobs, near Waterloo, on March 1.

“They were our first post-pandemic Wellness Days,” said Michael Gallardo, president and CEO of Merit Ontario. “We wanted to show Merit Ontario’s commitment to our membership by taking on topics that are sometimes difficult for construction companies to deal with by themselves.”

Gallardo said Merit Ontario partnered with ICBA on Wellness Days because of the success of the latter’s Wellness Program in B.C.

“We wanted to do the same thing in Ontario, to get the mental wellness message out,” he said. “Our Wellness Days were a great success and well received by everyone who attended. People bought Corey’s book (The Save of My Life, by Corey Hirsch and Sean Patrick Conboy) and discussed it among themselves.”

Gallardo said Merit Ontario hopes to do more such days in the future. 

“Some companies have been thinking about having their own Wellness Days too,” he said.

Gallardo said Ontario construction workers are facing mental health challenges for a variety of interrelated reasons, such as job stress, worksite conflict, burnout as well as difficulties adapting to post-pandemic life. 

“These are difficult subjects and it can be hard getting construction workers to talk about them,” said Gallardo. “Fortunately, mental health support is available to the members of the ICBA group health plan.” 

ICBA president Chris Gardner said the association’s Workplace Wellness program was launched in 2021.

“We looked at the data in the ICBA health and dental plan, which has 150,000 members across Canada, and we saw that the top two drugs being prescribed were for depression and anxiety,” said Gardner.

Because there were few mental health resources available for construction workers at the time, ICBA decided to develop its own program. It now has 10,000 people enrolled in it.

“The next phase of the Wellness Program was to enlist a mental health advocate – Corey Hirsch – and take it on the road,” said Gardner. “Corey excelled in hockey, but he also had some mental health challenges.”

Since he became an ICBA Wellness Ambassador, Hirsch has spoken on mental health to construction workers more than 50 times.

In addition to his recent talks in Ontario, he has spoken in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. And in fall 2023 he will speak to audiences in Calgary and Edmonton.

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