Paragraph one reads: "Wade Belak was coping with depression when he died but seemed to be 'taking control' of his condition, according to his mother, and one of the retired National Hockey League player’s friends said Belak had been taking antidepressants for the last four years."
By Sean Fitz-Gerald, Postmedia NewsSeptember 2, 2011
TORONTO Wade Belak was coping with depression when he died but seemed to be “taking control” of his condition, according to his mother, and one of the retired National Hockey League player’s friends said Belak had been taking antidepressants for the last four years.
Lorraine Belak said in an interview with the CBC that her son “didn’t talk about it all the time, or a lot.”
“I don’t know about depression,” she told the Canadian network on Friday. “I don’t know the symptoms or things like that, so I really am uncomfortable talking about that because I just don’t know enough about it.”
Her son’s body was found in a downtown Toronto hotel and condominium complex early Wednesday afternoon. Toronto police do not suspect foul play and have released neither the identity nor the cause of death, though a police source has confirmed it was a suicide.
Lorraine Belak said she last spoke with her son on Sunday, before he left his family home in Nashville for a flight to Toronto, where he was preparing for his role on the CBC show Battle of the Blades. On Thursday, Lionel Aadland, Belak’s father, said the family had been told Belak had taken his own life.
“Of course, I couldn’t believe it,” his mother told the CBC. “I was stunned, shocked, but most of all, I just could not believe that this happened to him.”
Belak’s funeral will be held Sunday in Nashville, where he had settled with his wife, Jennifer, and their two children.
“The lesson we’ve learned from Wade will haunt many of us for a long time you never know what’s going on in someone’s head,” TSN host Michael Landsberg told TSN Radio on Friday afternoon. “Wade Belak apparently had an external ability that was mind-blowing, how good he could sell his mental well-being. Always smiling.”
Landsberg, who copes with depression, told the station he and Belak had been discussing the condition and its treatments on and off for at least four years. He told the station they had talked about it as recently as a week ago.
“He had referred to having been on ‘happy pills’ for four years,” Landsberg said on the air. “And I said to him, ‘They’re not happy pills, as you know. At best, they return you to being the way you were beforehand.’ ”
Belak had been a guest on Off The Record, the long-running TSN show hosted by Landsberg. He was a fan favourite and a celebrity during the parts of seven seasons he spent with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I was 100 per cent sure that he was managing it, coping with it,” said Landsberg, who described Belak as being a “pseudo member of my family.”
Belak retired from hockey earlier this year and, in an interview with the National Post last week, detailed the various physical aches and pains endured over 15 seasons spent as an enforcer. The 35-year-old had developed arthritis in his pelvis that, when inflamed, required cortisone injections that sidelined him for three or four days at a time.
The Nashville Predators placed him on waivers in February, but instead of forcing him to report to their American Hockey League affiliate, they gave him the option of becoming a broadcaster. Belak moved behind the microphone before the playoffs and was due to become a sideline reporter with the team this season.
“Fifteen years of pro hockey flew by for me,” Belak said last week. “Just to still be involved with hockey is great, and I think it helps you out.”
On Friday, the Toronto Star cited two sources close to Belak stating the former enforcer had been taking medication to treat his depression. Belak’s father said the family “didn’t see any signs” of trouble.
The NHL and NHLPA have a program in place to help players deal with personal issues such as depression or drug and alcohol addiction, but it was not clear if Belak had been a part of that program. As part of the program, players are put in touch with specialists in their area and given medication, psychological treatment or a combination of the two.
On Thursday, the league and the Players’ Association issued a joint statement saying the organizations were “committed to a thorough evaluation of our existing assistance programs and practices and will make immediate modifications and improvements to the extent they are deemed warranted.”
Aadland said he last spoke with his son a few weeks ago.
“He wasn’t a fighter because he was necessarily a rough, tough guy,” he said. “He was an enforcer or whatever you want to call it because that was his role. He knew his role and that’s what paid the bills. As much as he loved hockey, he didn’t really like the fighting part, but it kind of came with the territory.”