The need for programs such as NRL's State of Mind was all too evident in the lead up to its launch in the Northern Territory in August.

In the weeks before the introduction of the program to rugby league clubs in Darwin and the Gove Peninsula, the need for all people to have access to support for mental health issues hit home.

Former Australian international and current Community Program Deliverer, David Shillington, told NRL.com the horrific events that had occurred before their arrival reinforced the importance of their visit to these rural communities.

"It's not an irrelevant program or a waste of time - the issue of mental illness and suicide is growing unfortunately so it's very important that we are raising awareness and reducing the stigma behind this social issue," Shillington said.

"The communities have recognised that something needed to be done so they were all keen for the program and were very welcoming.

"The next step will be implementing an action plan, where we've identified ways that each club can be more proactive in the mental health space, while making it more supportive and inclusive."

Shillington and other members of the NRL Community team will revisit the Northern Territory at the start of the 2019 season.

NRL Community Program Deliverer David Shillington addresses students in Gove, NT.
NRL Community Program Deliverer David Shillington addresses students in Gove, NT. ©NRL Photos

The Community team is also looking at expanding the program to rugby league clubs around Alice Springs in May next year, thanks to the ongoing support of the Northern Territory Government.

"The feedback from the trip was very positive, in which the clubs and the Northern Territory NRL staff are really keen for us to come back and do more with the clubs," Shillington said.

"I have to give a special mention to the Northern Territory NRL division up there. I presented the program to them as well. They felt that if they were asking all of their junior rugby league clubs to participate in the program then it was only fair that they did too.

"It was fantastic having them involved with it and leading the way in that space up there, wanting to learn how they can make it a more supportive and safe environment [by] brainstorming ideas of connecting with local service providers and doing more community bond style initiatives."

NRL Community Manager Neesha Eckersley said that rugby league has a unique opportunity to address the nations social issues with our communities, which is led by our dedicated former and current NRL players.

"We know more broadly the power of sport and the power it has to essentially be a vehicle to create conversations and tackle some of our social issues," Eckersley said.

NRL Community Program Deliverer David Shillington delivers a mental health program to students in Gove, NT.
NRL Community Program Deliverer David Shillington delivers a mental health program to students in Gove, NT. ©NRL Photos

"It's an incredible tool that we have and part of the beauty of this program is that in terms of the delivery, they're delivered by our retired NRL players that are extremely passionate about encouraging people to have these serious conversations, whether it's through their personal experiences or supporting teammates or colleagues that were struggling.

"Also we've got a number of current players involved in the program who have put their hand up voluntarily because they are also passionate about mental health awareness."