A former National Hockey League goalie told a group of Ontario first responders on Friday that they don't have to go it alone when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Clint Malarchuk, who struggled with mental health issues after suffering a slashed jugular vein during an NHL game in 1989, spoke at a lunch-and-learn education session Friday at York Regional Police headquarters in Aurora, Ont.

The event, which was closed to the media, drew some 260 first responders, including police, firefighters, paramedics, nurses and members of the military.

Malarchuk spoke about the challenges of PTSD, mental health and suicide awareness.

ambulance cop

According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, first responders experience PTSD at two times the rate of the average population. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Todd Snooks, a York Regional Police officer and team leader with the York Region Critical Incident Stress Management Team, said the message was a powerful one.

"He said it's really important to acknowledge and work through PTSD. He said it's important to own it and help get rid of the stigma of mental illness," Snooks said.

Malarchuk's injury was one of the most gruesome ever captured on television. He was playing for the Buffalo Sabres when his jugular vein was cut accidentally by a player's skate. He healed from his injuries and played hockey again, but it took a long time for him to heal from the mental trauma. 

After the accident, he struggled with alcoholism as his mental health deteriorated.

Malarchuk, who wrote a book about his ordeal, says he sought medical treatment but he struggled for many years before he started to make progress. In the process, he tackled some long standing issues like anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, which he wrote he had experienced since childhood. 

United by Trauma, an organization that began in 2013 to discuss PTSD and the impact it has had on first responders, organized the event.