New Zealand Super Rugby star Solomon Alaimalo reveals mental health struggles in candid social media post
The pressures of being a professional rugby player are undeniable and one Super Rugby star has opened up on the impact said pressures have had on his mental health.
Solomon Alaimalo shifted south from the Chiefs to the Highlanders at the beginning of 2021 but finished the season with just two appearances to his name, despite many expecting the ranging outside back to take hold of the starting No 15 jersey for his new team.
With injuries continuing to barrage the Highlanders, Alaimalo’s absence was all the more curious – but explained as ‘personal issues’.
In a candid post on social media, Alaimalo has now revealed why his appearances were so limited this year, with the 25-year-old explaining that he has struggled with anxiety and depression for a number of years, and his mental health took a further significant blow in 2021.
“I had a lot of messages throughout the season asking ‘why are you not playing?’ and some I ignored and some I just said my shoulder still wasn’t right,” Alaimalo wrote on Instagram. “But truth is I really struggled this year with depression and anxiety for multiple reasons.
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“For me I’ve been going in and out of it for a while now growing up but ever since my joining of professional footy it got worse. Always judging myself as a person off how I’d played, letting the game I love dictate my mood for the day and week until we’d get to play again.”
Alaimalo explained that his mental health deteriorated to the point where he “didn’t want to be around anymore” and that he stopped enjoying playing rugby – despite always putting his best forward.
He also admitted that he was afraid of being judged for his thoughts or people suggesting he was ungrateful, given he was working in his “dream job”.
In 2021, things reached a tipping point for the 25-year-old, and Alaimalo and his fiancee reached out for help through the Highlanders’ doctor and player development manager.
“Looking back now I’m very grateful I did,” Alaimalo wrote. “It took away the game I loved for months but I understood that what was important at the time was my mental well-being. With the help I needed from counselling and my psychiatrist I slowly started to understand why I was so depressed and that I wasn’t being ungrateful but that my feelings are valid.”
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) December 20, 2020
Alaimalo acknowledged that while he was now getting the support he needed, it wouldn’t all be “sunshine and rainbows” moving forward, but that he now has a better understanding of his mental health.
He finished the post by thanking his support group, including the Highlanders, his close friends and family, and his fiancee.
Alaimalo has touched upon his mental health in the past, revealing to The XV earlier this year that a long run of injuries had hampered his love for the game.
“The main thing for me, at least for the next wee while, is just getting back to enjoying my footy,” he said. “And it’s about having that balance too – getting life right outside of footy. That’s why I think moving down to Dunedin and having me and my partner’s families a bit closer and being able to visit them will be a good thing.
“I know Anton [Lienert-Brown] talks about it a lot, just finding that balance. He’s talked about how a lot of players after games, if they’ve had a bad game, they can think it means that they’re a bad person.
“I’m pretty bad like that and that’s something I’m still working on. It’s all good to invest yourself into the game. I just think I probably invest myself too much to the point where it’s almost not enjoyable to me. That’s why I think having a fresh change and like I said, bro, being closer to our families will make things a bit easier.”
Alaimalo has played almost a half-century of Super Rugby matches collectively for the Chiefs and Highlanders and will represent Southland in the upcoming NPC.
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