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The NRL’s State of Mind program is encouraging people to look out for one another as they promote positive mental wellbeing through the launch of their new #Dontstayonthesideline campaign.

In the lead-up to Origin I, the game wishes to highlight one of the biggest health issues in Australia - with mental illness affecting one in two Australians. 

NRL State of Mind Advocate and former Maroon David Shillington said that people shouldn’t underestimate the impact they can have on other people by offering support.

"We want to encourage people to act on what they see," Shillington said.

"If you see someone isn't alright - if you see that they have been isolating themselves, withdrawing from their usual social circles, have stopped doing the things they like to do, or if they become easily irritated then check in on them.

"Offering support to family, friends, colleagues – it’s a powerful antidote to depression and stress.

"Too often we ignore those signs or we think it's not our place but the message is they need your support as you need there's.

"That connection and support is invaluable - whether your just helping someone through a tough time or you're actually saving someones life."

The former Kangaroo faced many challenges of his own while playing and said if it wasn't for the support of his former Roosters coach and now NSW coach Brad Fittler, who reached out to him, he wouldn’t have achieved what he did in the game. 

"The environment has changed a lot since my time in the NRL back in late 2001 when I started," Shillington said.

"If we talked about our emotional wellbeing we were most likely laughed at and there were probably no practises at all when it came to supporting each other and dealing with mental health.

"I remember when Brad recommended that I go and get some professional help. At first I was very surprised and a little offended - I was 6-foot-5 and 115kg - but I went and got help and I loved it.

"I thought I would have nothing to talk about but the man I went and saw couldn't stop me talking after a while. 

"We work so hard on our physical ability and it just makes sense to work on our emotional wellbeing as well, to complement that and to enhance it as well.

NRL State of Mind advocate David Shillington.
NRL State of Mind advocate David Shillington. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

"When I retired in 2016 the environment had changed so much. The NRL have now invested so much time and money into better educating the players and all things around resilience and practising mental health skill likes gratitude, mindfulness and empathy."

The NRL State of Mind program is supported by a number of expert mental health partners including Kids Helpline, headspace, Lifeline and the Black Dog Institute.

There is also extensive support from a number of Federal, State and Territory Governments, including the Australian Federal Government, the Queensland and Western Australian State Governments and Northern Territory Government.

Along with this support Shillington said it’s now our NRL players that are now leading the way in this space.  

Three advocates of the State of Mind program will be taking the field at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night - Michael Morgan, Dane Gagai and Angus Crichton.

"Our players are now sharing their stories, which goes a long way in reducing that stigma, encouraging people to talk more and support each other," Shillington said.

"When our superstars of the game show that they're only human or that they can be a good support network, it sets a great example for our fans and other players. 

"Years ago we use to think that a man was weak to speak about the struggles they may face in life but now we know through the stories of our advocates, these are real men speaking about life difficulties.

"They're the toughest football players, performing in the toughest arena of State of Origin, yet they are open and willing to talk about the difficult times in life."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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