Ladies who league: The importance of mental health

I know plenty of men that grew up in a world where there were very specific character traits you had to exhibit to be a man.  

Messaging like this was common - men do not express emotion. Men are bold. Men are brave. Men do not show weakness. Men are strong, and above all, men do not cry.

The focus on these character traits and linking them to coming of age and becoming a man have meant that many men have grown up not understanding the importance of talking about their emotions, showing vulnerability and not having enough confidence in their friends and family to reach out for help when they have needed it. 

In a world where one in two Australians will be impacted by mental illness at some point in their lives and where suicide is the biggest killer of individuals aged 15-44, this is of major concern and we need to start challenging the stereotype of 'what a man' is.

The stats don't lie about the prevalence of mental illness, so it should come as no surprise when we see men and women involved in the rugby league family come out and speak openly about their battles with mental illness.

Men like Dan Hunt who played for the St George Illawarra Dragons who speaks honestly about this battle with bipolar disorder or Greg Inglis from the South Sydney Rabbitohs, who admitted himself to a mental health clinic with depression after sustaining a season-ending injury earlier this year. 

Fortunately in these cases, Dan and Greg were able to speak out and get help. Others are not so fortunate and when the sporting world is touched by tragedy, like in the cases of Dan Vickerman and Chad Robinson, we are reminded that even when it comes to men and women who we see as absolutely invincible in the sporting arena, that mental illness does not discriminate. 

 

 

In the end, these men and women are just like you and I and also require support when they are going through challenging moments in their lives.

 

Support is one space where sport can play a role.

Sport is one of the most powerful forces on earth. It has the ability to bring people together in a way that almost nothing else can and has the power to make real change in communities.

This power is a responsibility the NRL takes seriously and it's important that we as a game continue to speak up and advocate on important issues – like the importance of good mental health. The NRL has a powerful voice and it should not be afraid to use it.

We've seen this powerful voice galvanised this week, with the NRL's launch of its 2017 State of Mind campaign. 

The State of Mind program is in its third year and is about: 

• Increasing mental health literacy in the community (from a grassroots level to the elite level);
• Encouraging people to ask for help when they need it;
• Helping to reduce some of the stigma and preconceptions associated with mental illness; 
• Working with people in the rugby league family to make sure they can be positive mental health advocates both at their clubs and in the wider community.

This program is widely supported across the rugby league family. The 30 State of Mind Ambassadors named in 2017 are extremely diverse and include men from our NRL clubs like Dale Finucane (Melbourne Storm), Anthony Milford (Brisbane Broncos) and Dale Copley (Gold Coast Titans), women from the Australian Jillaroos like Ruan Sims and Sam Bremner and referees including Ben Cummins and Matt Cecchin. 

It is so important that there is diversity in these Ambassadors so that members of the community can look to them and see them as truly representative of all parts of the rugby league family.

What some of you might not know is that to be a State of Mind Ambassador you need to nominate yourself so when it comes to the State of Mind campaign, each player makes a decision to be involved.

Take Moses Mbye from the Canterbury Bulldogs who had a mate suffering from mental illness. Seeing his mate go through and overcome his mental health challenges really impacted Moses who then decided to become involved in the program. Or Brenton Lawrence from the Manly Sea Eagles who through knowledge just wants an opportunity to give back to the community and help others. Or former Wests Tigers player Dene Halatau who recognises the role that rugby league players have as role models and then using this role model status to motivate others in the community to seek help if they need it.

All the Ambassadors involved in the program receive ongoing training and undertake a Mental Health First Aid Certificate.

In a world where vulnerability is often seen as a negative, I commend each of the ambassadors for being involved in the program and recognising the power that they have to drive change in the community.

 

Another key message the NRL is sharing this week is that there is always someone there to help you. 

Through the State of Mind program, the NRL partners with the Kids Helpline, The Black Dog Institute, headspace, Lifeline and New Zealand based organisation, LeVa. These organisations are there to assist you if you ever need it.

I also want to put myself out there as someone who is there for you to reach out to, no matter how big or small your challenge is.

And to anyone who might be experiencing a difficult or challenging time at the moment, I want to share the following message with you.

You are valued. You are important. There are several people in this world who love you. And it is never a sign of weakness to reach out and ask for help. Being vulnerable and depending on others is part of what makes us all human – each of us is unique and worthwhile in our special way.

The NRL's State of Mind program is supported in partnership with expert health partners: Kids Helpline, The Black Dog Institute, headspace, Lifeline and New Zealand based organisation, Le Va. 

For more information on the NRL's State of Mind program and other Community Programs that the NRL delivers, visit www.nrl.com/forchange 

The 'Power For Change' campaign builds on the narrative of existing community programs and initiatives undertaken year-round by all levels of the Game and supported more broadly throughout communities.