Late Tiger puts beyondblue partnership into perspective
Suicide and depression are big issues in society, with Wests Tigers knowing better than many what it's like to lose one of their own.
Former under-20s player Mosese Fotuaika sadly took his own life almost three years ago, which makes the Wests Tigers' three-year partnership with beyondblue all the more important.
"Besides the fact that mental health is obviously important to us as an organisation, we're here to ensure a mentally healthy workplace for not only our players but our staff as well," Tigers CEO Justin Pascoe said while announcing the club's deal with beyondblue.
"As you are all aware we have a connection with mental health involving the tragic circumstances which happened in early 2013 so we're very proud and privileged to have this opportunity to work with beyondblue over the next three years."
Two members of the Tigers' leadership group in Chris Lawrence and Sauaso Sue will act as ambassadors of beyondblue in conjunction with the partnership.
"When you have two senior respected players who are willing to put their hand up and say that this is something any of us could encounter, it sends a very important message," beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett said on Tuesday.
"What Mosese went through could be happening to someone else, in any walk of life. For those of us who have never suffered clinical depression, please don't think you're going to be hit by the black dog stick – it could happen overnight.
"The real question is, who's next? And because we don't know who is, it's about educating ourselves to recognise the signs and do something about it."
Lawrence has been playing first grade at the Tigers for over a decade and detailed one of his toughest periods at the club, as teammates of Fotuaika came to terms with their mate's passing.
"That was probably one of the hardest things I had to sit and watch guys go through. Guys like Jesse Sue and a number of the playing group were the same age as Mosese and had come through the Tigers system with him," Lawrence said.
"Essentially losing your best mate in those circumstances really plays on those guys minds. It's really unfair for them to carry that burden so for us it's about preventing that so nobody has to go through that again.
"The incident with Mosese really hit the playing group hard and since then the club has tried to prevent such incidents. This partnership is definitely the biggest step the club has taken and hopefully with myself and Jesse becoming ambassadors we can be educated on ways for players to be encouraged to talk about their issues if they're there."
"Our young kids in the NRL are sure to feel the pressure of first grade footy. It's about trying to help those guys and make sure they get the help they need and openly talking about what they need to move forward."
Kennett, a former Premier of Victoria and president of AFL outfit Hawthorn, said more needed to be done around mental health for players in all sports.
"When we talk about Occupational Health and Safety, we're getting a lot better with the safety. But the 'H' has been ignored for years despite health being terribly important," Kennett said.
"What needs to happen is a lot more effort needs to be spent on working with the individuals to make sure they're adjusting to the circumstances which they are involved in.
"For athletes it's very tough because there are so many competing to be recognised and retained at the club. But life is short. Therefore to enjoy what you're doing no matter who you are is terribly important.
"We believe [this partnership will] not only will lead to healthy outcomes, but better performances on the field. We see this as an investment in education, performance and in a membership capacity."
The NRL has announced its NRL State of Mind ambassadors for 2016, with representatives from all 16 clubs, the Harvey Norman Jillaroos and Touch Football Australia part of the campaign to reduce stigma around mental illness.
Now in its third year, the NRL State of Mind program aims to encourage players, clubs and communities to speak up and seek help if they are experiencing any form of difficulty or difference in their mood.