Parramatta half Luke Kelly is one of 14 State of Mind ambassadors appointed by the NRL to increase awareness around mental health – one of the country's biggest health issues.
The engagement of elite players is critical in bringing a different attitude to the way mental health is addressed within the community.
"I've had some experiences with some people close to me who have suffered from mental illness," Kelly said.
"It is something that I'm interested in and want to learn more about. If I can help in any way I can I am very keen to do so."
Mental illness affects one in two people nationally. Rugby league is in a unique position to have a positive impact on mental health by using its profile and players to lead discussion, connect people and help break the silence on what can be a life-threatening matter.
"There are always pressures in every job, but in football you also have pressure to perform; to play well and train well," the Eels half said.
"At club level we have a lot of great support staff whether it is coaches, trainers or our welfare department. There is always someone to help or who is willing to listen.
"It can be difficult in a rugby league setting where you don't want to be seen as weak or letting your team down.
"It's definitely not a weakness. Mental illness is something that can affect anyone. The quicker you can talk about it the quicker you can get on top of it."
The State of Mind Ambassadors, who are current NRL squad members, volunteered for the roles because they wanted to make a difference in the area of mental health.
The nomination process took into account; reputation both on and off the field, a desire to contribute to the mental wellness of the community, participation in education in a relevant field and a willingness and capacity to participate in activities outside the club football schedule.
"I'm currently studying my diploma in youth work. Through that program we do a lot of work with kids at risk - kids who aren't really in the mainstream in terms of schooling and sport, kids who don't have the best home life," Kelly said.
"It opens your eyes and makes your realise how lucky you are. To be able to help these kids is something I'm very keen on and passionate about."
All ambassadors will receive Mental Health First Aid training and qualifications, training and support to be able to deliver a mental health program designed by the Black Dog Institute, the opportunity to give back to their community in a meaningful way and become a leader in mental health awareness within their clubs.
The NRL is in coalition with Lifeline, Kids Helpline, Headspace and the Black Dog Institute to implement a number of new initiatives.
For more information visit nrlstateofmind.com.au
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