Preston Campbell knows first hand the positive impact speaking out about mental health can have and he hopes that current NRL players can continue the conversation that he brought into the spotlight in 2013.
The 2008 Ken Stephen Medal winner joined former Kiwi International Clinton Toopi to deliver the game’s State of Mind program to both the Indigenous and Maori men’s and women’s teams at the recent All Stars event in Melbourne.
Drawing on experiences of their own, Campbell and Toopi shared tips with the players on how to maintain a good mental health and how they can find the resilience within themselves to face their demons.
Campbell told NRL.com that the message to the younger generation to acknowledge exactly how they are feeling must come from the leaders in our game.
"These players are leaders in their communities already,” Campbell said.
"When our (Indigenous) men and women talk it’s almost gospel so we want them to take up that leadership role in this space especially, because it's not something that a lot of people like to talk about.
"To have a conversation and let people know how you feel may seem simple, yet we find it difficult to do it.”
The NRL’s State of Mind program started in 2015 and has seen the likes of Broncos skipper Darius Boyd, Sea Eagles second-rower Joel Thompson and Cowboys five-eighth Michael Morgan all throw their support behind raising awareness.
Campbell said although there are a number of current players leading the way in this space, the stigma is unfortunately still attached.
"Rugby league is an environment where so many men and women that are under pressure and still seem to keep things close to their chest,” said Campbell, a member of Penrith's 2003 premiership side.
"I know the benefit of talking about how you're feeling.
"It's scary in the beginning trying to express yourself but once you do, things just seem to flow and you can then enjoy playing rugby league because you feel like there's a weight of your chest.
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“You feel like you're getting things done and you're dealing with any issues that are going on in your life. More often than not they are issues that can be easily dealt with and sometimes all it takes is a conversation and someone reassuring you that everything's going to be alright.”
Campbell and Toopi also delivered a Resilience workshop to the All Stars Youth Summit cohort, which was tailored around mindfulness and gratitude.
"The society we live in now is so different, even compared to when I was playing,” Campbell said.
"It's such a difficult time for them to live in because there is so much going on around them and they lose themselves in all of that. They know a lot more about other people than what they do about themselves.
"They see someone on social media that's having a great time and they wish that they could live that life or have what they have but more often than not what they see is unrealistic – this forces a lot of them to be really hard on themselves."
The Australian Government have committed to supporting the State of Mind program for a further three years.
"As much as our game has a community obligation to promote positive change and social impact, it's vital that the government sees it as not just a tick-the-box initiative. This is something that is ongoing and needs a lot of support," Toopi said.
"To give us a three-year commitment just shows the faith they have in its longevity and how much work there is to do, while also giving us enough capacity and leverage to go to the wider community outside of rugby league."