Brown and Koroisau share sorrow and strength
In the wake of Manly hooker Api Koroisau recently opening up for the first time on the tragedy that engulfed his life three years ago, teammate Lewis Brown says Koroisau helped him through his own recent loss of his father as Brown sets out to break a three-generation cycle of suicide in his family.
Koroisau arrived home from Mad Monday in September 2015 to find his girlfriend had taken her own life.
Kiwi Test utility Brown – the Penrith teammate who dropped Koroisau home that day – was told after New Zealand's 2016 Four Nations final loss to Australia that his own estranged father had committed suicide.
Koroisau and Brown shifted to Manly together in 2016; almost a year on from Brown's tragic news and he said that while it doesn't get any easier, having someone to talk to who understands the emotions involved certainly helped him.
"Api's been a massive shoulder for me to lean on," Brown said this week.
"I went through a tough time there in the off-season where my father took his own life. I'm not over it now but I'm slowly learning to deal with it. Api's been there for me.
"We dropped Api off at home when the tragedy happened for him when we were both at Penrith. To have someone that's gone through the same thing, it doesn't make it any easier but it makes it easier to talk to someone."
Brown said despite the projected image of professional football players as big, strong men full of bravado, they can be as troubled by personal feelings as anyone else.
"I'm not over my dad stuff and I'm still learning to deal with that. My message is, if I can help anyone, it's OK to speak out.
"For me it's three generations: my dad, my grandfather and my great grandfather. It's about breaking the cycle."
Such things put rugby league in perspective, according to Brown, though the sport can also provide a valuable support network.
"[The Manly playing group] has been really strong around myself," Brown added.
"It's taken [Koroisau] three years to speak about his story and sometimes it's like that but he's been a massive part of helping me get through what I've been through."
Just last week Koroisau addressed what he went through publicly for the first time in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. Brown wrestled with whether to address his own loss publicly but made the tough decision to do so via an Instagram post as well as addressing it in the media.
"I just wanted to put the message out there that I'm willing to open my mind to anyone," Brown said.
"The amount of people that inbox me to say 'thank you very much', that they've been scared to speak out about it. I've even talked to random people just over the phone to offer my experiences and how I deal with it.
"Within society over the last few years I think it's been a bit more accepted that people can talk."
Society as a whole is moving away from the perception that if you seek help for mental health issues that there is something wrong with you, Brown added.
"We've got to lose that tag, everyone's going through things of their own and you should be able to go and talk to someone where you're not frowned upon or seen that just because you're talking to someone there's something wrong with you."
Brown applauded the stance taken by the NRL in recent years in terms of addressing mental health issues among players and putting staff in place who can help.
"At our club we've got (former New Zealand international) Quentin Pongia who has admitted himself that he went through a tough time in his career and he's been awesome for our club," Brown said.
"If we can get more people like him in the game, ex-players who have been through that experience. He's been awesome for our group, a lot of boys that have spoken to him have got a lot out of that."
*Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
*Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.
*MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78.