Wollongong AFL clubs to take part in mental health and suicide prevention round

Lions player Jake Hogarth and Bulldogs player Christian Foster ahead of this weekend's game. Picture: Robert Peet
Lions player Jake Hogarth and Bulldogs player Christian Foster ahead of this weekend's game. Picture: Robert Peet

In the Illawarra/Shoalhaven, three out of four suicide deaths are men.

Sporting clubs are often tight-knit communities, and in recognition of the key role they have in reducing suicide, on-field rivals, the University of Wollongong Bulldogs and Wollongong Lions AFL clubs are hosting a mental health and suicide prevention round.

It will take place on Saturday (August 25) from 10am to 4.30pm at Keira Oval.

Particularly for men, sporting clubs and team-mates can sometimes become the only place where they can talk freely about times when they’re struggling.

UOW Bulldogs player Adam Weston, 23, saw the need to get more people talking about mental health and suicide, and to get support when they need it. 

“We want to educate as many people as we can about mental health and suicide prevention, and keep them informed about the support networks available to them,” he said. 

“Issues are always going to come up, but we can make sure we’ve got the skills and confidence to talk about it.”

Senior members from the two clubs will also be sharing their own experience of mental health issues and suicide.

“Personally, I’ve dealt with some pretty extreme cases of depression and anxiety in the past, and talking about it can be tough,” Mr Weston said. 

“That’s why we want people to be aware of what’s available to them and be well equipped to help others who may need it.’’

As part of the round, the club will have information about what support and resources are available.

“Moving from Albury to Wollongong for uni in 2016 was a big deal for me, but that’s something the footy club really helped with.

“Sporting clubs are like their own type of support network; they’re like family, especially here at the Doggies.”

Teammates there to help

Dr Alex Hains, regional manager of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative says ​local sporting clubs are part of the fabric of our communities.

Wayne Schwass.

Wayne Schwass.

“Particularly for men, sporting clubs and team-mates can sometimes become the only place where they can talk freely about times when they’re struggling,” he said.

“Team-mates are in a position to notice when those around them in their club are not their usual selves.

“So we see sporting clubs as a really important gate-keeper for support for people who need it.”

Former AFL premiership-winning player Wayne Schwass, who has also had his own battles with mental health, is now a dedicated mental health advocate. 

“Mental health conditions have the potential to impact any one of us, and we believe talking about this important issue is a life-changing opportunity,” he said. 

“We need to create the environments for every person to have authentic and genuine conversations about mental health and emotional well-being.”

The Mercury, with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative, is running a campaign to get more residents trained in suicide prevention through the QPR: Question, Persuade, Refer online course

QPR is a one-hour, online training which gives people the confidence to talk to a colleague, peer or family member about their suicidal thoughts and connect them with professional care.

The training is available at a cost of $10. 

For more information, visit the www.suicidepreventioncollaborative.org.au/QPR website. 

The UOW Bulldogs will be rolling out Question Persuade Refer training amongst its players. 

Bulldogs player Adam Weston recently completed the training. 

“We’re looking forward to rolling this online training out to our players, and we encourage other sporting clubs to get involved,” Mr Weston said. 

Lions player Jake Hogarth said they’d had a series of group meetings/open floor discussions within the club regarding mental health and related issues. He said each of their grades would be wearing blue armbands during Saturday’s round to promote beyondblue. 

If you or someone you know needs support now, please call Lifeline 24/7 on 131 114.