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Hrudeys know significance of breaking down mental health stigma

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

Not 677 career National Hockey League games.

Not 271 wins or 17 shutouts over parts of 15 NHL seasons.

Not even a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1993, or a widely successful broadcast career after retiring from hockey in 1998.

Kelly Hrudey’s biggest accomplishment?

His work with daughter Kaitlin.

“It is without a doubt the most rewarding work I’ve ever been a part of,” Kelly said. “Forget about my hockey or anything broadcasting I’ve ever done. This is the best work I’ve ever been a part of.”

The former New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks goaltender-turned Rogers Sportsnet commentator and Hockey Night in Canada analyst and his daughter, Kaitlin, have long been working to erase stigma attached to mental health.

“We’re far more educated about this and have so much more information,” Kelly said. “We’re learning all the time about it. That’s why I really like to read a lot about everybody else’s experiences. There are so many important initiatives out there. We’ve been included in many speaking engagements, and it’s so rewarding for us.

“To hear other people come up to us, which I will say is both heartbreaking and heartwarming because it’s heartwarming when they share their stories and you can tell that they’re doing well or getting better, and it’s heartbreaking when you can see in their eyes they’re right in the midst of it and you know it’s a long road for them. That part is great. It’s fulfilling. But it’s hard.”

It’s a subject that hits home for the Hrudeys.

Kaitlin battles with mental illness.

For a long time, she has had what she described as obsessive thoughts, mostly pertaining to disease, and anxiety about being separated from father Kelly and wife Donna.

“It started when I was about 11, the summer before Grade 7,” she said. “I started to get a whole bunch of thoughts in my head, mostly revolving around getting diseases or dying. At first I kept them to myself and didn’t tell anyone. They got to the point where they started building up and I couldn’t control them anymore and they started to control me and everything I did. They made me believe that if I left my parents, especially my mom, that something bad would happen to me. It got to the point where my parents started realizing things I was doing. I was always cancelling on sleepovers or cancelling on my friends.

“On the first day of Grade 7 I couldn’t get out of the car. I think at that point it was something my parents realized was something more serious we had to deal with.”

There was little support, and even less information, about mental illness at the time.

“For us, we were confused also,” Kelly said. “We didn’t know what Kaitlin was going through. We knew that there was something serious going on. She had all these what we thought were quirky habits, all these individual signs. We took them as just that, individual episodes. We didn’t put it all together. Had we done that … and I don’t have any regrets about that, we didn’t have any basis to go on or training about mental health issues … we would’ve recognized something was going on with her earlier than we did.”

The more Kaitlin talked, the better she felt.

“Once I started seeing a therapist it was a relief, because he told me I had anxiety and OCD,” Kaitlin said. “It was just nice to have a name to it, that other people had it, and he reassured me I could get through it. But it was definitely confusing and scary. I didn’t tell anyone what I was going through until I was 19. It was a big secret. I regret keeping it a secret now because of all the support I’ve gotten since sharing. At the time I was just really embarrassed and confused about everything that I didn’t want to tell anyone.

“At the time I was super embarrassed and didn’t want them to know I was different than them. Now I’m not embarrassed at all and I like talking about it.”

It’s the biggest message Kaitlin, who has openly shared her story, hopes others receive.

“For me, what worked was just talking to people about it and not being embarrassed,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with having a mental illness. I have anxiety and OCD and I have a great life and I’m doing everything that I want to. Maybe you just have to do it a little differently than you thought.

“I really just don’t want people to be embarrassed and to be happy with who they are and that it really does get better.”

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