One in five Australians will experience a mental health condition in any given year. Meanwhile, fewer than 50% of people with depression will actually seek out treatment or intervention.
While rugby players are quick to treat any physical injuries they suffer on the field, there’s still a huge stigma attached to seeking out help for less visible problems.
Mental health is still viewed by many as a mystery; the Rugby Unite program based in Queensland is aiming to fix that.
The three-year program will provide information to clubs about combating mental health problems as well as training volunteers in mental health first aid.
The Rugby Unite charity was formed in 2016 by Damon Rielly, Darren Gaffney, Michael Chettle and Alex Corones. The four men were all close friends with former Reds, Easts and Sunnybank player Rick Tyrrell, who passed away in 2015. Rick’s memory, as well as that of former Queensland Red and Wallaby Stan Pilecki, who was an avid campaigner for mental health support, continue to live on through Rugby Unite.
Whilst the program has been slowly gaining traction in the last few years, the Queensland Rugby Union have now officially partnered with Rugby Unite to help provide the program to all 240 clubs across the state. The Palaszczuk State Government and the Queensland Mental Health Commission have also come on board.
After Rick’s passing, his friends worked with Easts and Sunnybank clubs to create the Rick Tyrrell Cup – which would be contested between the two clubs on an annual basis. The fifth annual clash will take place this Saturday. The two rivals will don the opposition’s socks for the match in a show of camaraderie.
QRU CEO David Hanham said Rugby Unite and Stan Pilecki had brought the incredibly important issue of mental health into the spotlight.
“Rugby is like any other part of the community – our players and supporters are just as likely to suffer mental health issues,” Mr Hanham said.
“Based on State-wide mental health statistics, almost 5,000 of our 26,000 registered players will suffer some sort of mental health issue every year. If this program can get one person the clinical help they need, it has done its job.
“We will be providing our Rugby community not just with encouragement to talk about mental illness, but providing each club with the tools to identify it and get people into the health system.”
The QRU certainly seem to be leading the way when it comes to supporting and managing mental health.
Given the prevalence of mental illness in young men, as well as the links between concussion and mental health problems later in life, rugby needs to lead the way when it comes to managing mental health.
There has certainly been an increase in mental health awareness in recent years – both in and out of the game – with the likes of ex-All Blacks John Kirwan prominently discussing the topic in the media.
The Rugby Unite program is just one more step in the right direction.
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