Islanders goaltender Robin Lehner opened up Thursday in a first-person letter for The Athletic about his ongoing recovery from alcoholism and a 2018 diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Lehner, a nine-year NHL veteran, revealed career-long struggles with alcohol and drug abuse and said it came to a head last season with the Sabres when he fluctuated between manic and depressive states “full of self-medication and thoughts of suicide.”
“Since the new year began I had been feeling severely depressed and my drinking increased,” he wrote. “I was heavily drinking a case of beer a day just to settle the demons in my mind and then took pills to sleep. I was self-treating myself because I could not be inside my own head by myself. The thoughts of ending it all … it was real and close.”
Lehner cited a March 29 game against the Red Wings — his final appearance for Buffalo — when he was removed in the third period after suffering a panic attack. The night prior, he had called Sabres goaltending coach Andrew Allen and alerted him to his deteriorating mental state.
“I had never had a sober season of hockey my entire career,” he said. “With those manic swings, I could see the pattern. When I was hypomanic and in a good mood, I was a solid goalie. The depressive state, not so much.”
It was at that point, Lehner said, he decided to seek immediate help. A few weeks prior, he had contacted officials with the NHL and NHL Players’ Association’s substance abuse program looking for assistance. Initially, he was planning on attending treatment after the season ended, but March 29 changed his plans and he admitted himself to an in-patient facility in Arizona, where he spent weeks inside a detox program and was diagnosed as bipolar 1 with manic phases.
Lehner’s treatment was life-changing and he returned home. But without a contract for the 2018-19 season, his future in the NHL became complicated by the uncertainty surrounding his situation. He faced questions about whether I “was a bad person or a bad teammate” from teams unaware of his private struggles.
He was passed over by several teams before signing a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Islanders on July 3.
“I am not sharing this story to make people think differently of Robin Lehner as a professional goalie,” he wrote. “I want to help make a difference and help others the way I have been helped. I want people to know that there is hope in desperation, there is healing in facing an ugly past and there is no shame in involving others in your battle.”
Read Lehner’s letter in its entirety here (subscription required).