New this year, the Capitals are joining in on the mental health awareness initiative 'Hockey Talks.'
An NHLPA led program, Hockey Talks was started in 2013 by former Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa after his teammate Rick Rypien's suicide.
In the early years of the program, only the seven NHL teams from Canada participated. Since then it has grown to 15 teams including the Washington Capitals in partnership with MedStar Health.
On Thursday night, the Capitals hosted Talk Saves Lives - an introductory presentation on mental health and suicide prevention led by Ali Walker, an ICU Physician's Assistant at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital as well as a board chair for the National Capital Area Chapter for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Walker's Talk Saves Lives slideshow included suicide statistics, warning signs and ways to try to help loved ones who are dealing with mental health issues. Over 50 Capitals fans signed up to hear the presentation at MedStar Capitals Iceplex.
The presentation was followed by a discussion with Capitals players Nick Jensen and Garnet Hathaway as well as Jensen's wife Jenner and Hathaway's fiancée Lindsay Minges.
The Jensens, Hathaway, Minges and Dr. Karen Anderson, an Associate Professor for Psychiatry and Neurology at Georgetown University, joined Walker at the front of the room to have a conversation about mental health.
Nick and Garnet answered questions pertaining to how they get their head in the game, how they help teammates if they're feeling down and ways they like to unwind and take their mind off the stresses of being a professional athlete.
Jenner Jensen is a Physician's Assistant and has seen first hand how the stigma surrounding mental health has affected people's lives. As a wife to a professional athlete in a world where everything can be criticized online, Jenner is passionate about helping raise awareness and encouraging the mental health discussion while removing the stigma that is wrongly associated with an often devastating disease.
"We [Nick and Jenner] were both high-level collegiate athletes and understand the highs and lows that come with expectations associated with performance and the constant influence of public opinion," Jenner said. "We also have close friends and family who struggle with mental health issues and we have seen how it can affect an individual when left untreated."
"For me it's more about bringing awareness, everyone experiences mental highs and lows and the immediate reaction is to not do anything about it," Nick said. "So I think bringing awareness to it helps people open up about it and realize that they can talk about these things."
Having professional athletes such as Garnet and Nick be involved in these conversations about mental health with fans is really important in order to continue to raise awareness about this difficult topic
Additionally, the Capitals are hosting their first Hockey Talks Mental Health Awareness night in partnership with MedStar Health when the team hosts the New Jersey Devils on January 16th.
Players will be wearing Hockey Talks decals on their helmets and in-game entertainment will feature several activations related to mental health, including PSAs and an informational table on the 200-level concourse.
For more information on this initiative visit WashCaps.com/HockeyTalks