Every community is susceptibleI’ve never suffered from a mental illness but I’ve had an experience close to my family.
That, and the need to get involved in something other than playing rugby, is what motivated me in getting involved with batyr, an organisation aimed at preventing mental health issues, predominantly in young people.
I’d had an inkling that I wanted to give back in that capacity. And then I met the founder of batyr in 2013 and have worked with them since.
Sometimes there’s not a master plan. But if you get in and have a crack, and bring some enthusiasm, things kind of tend to work out. They’ve built this identity of being young and enthusiastic, and really committed to the cause.
Mental illness and the importance of having men who are truly mentally healthy – no one is immune from that. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Japan or America or Europe or Australia. Everyone is susceptible to some form of mental illness in their community.
The power of rugby
I grew up in Tamworth. I went away to boarding school and spent a lot of time in Sydney, but I still have a real connection to that area, and to the bush. And I love what country rugby is about.
And then when the opportunities come up to do something like the Get Talkin’ tour, which I was involved with before heading away, I jumped at them.
Targeting mental health in country rugby clubs is a great way to get people feeling more comfortable talking about mental illness and educating them on how to maintain good mental health.
I think mental health issues are more prevalent when there’s a drought in the country, because that’s when the area is under most stress. But even in good times, it’s important to make sure you celebrate the little things that are going on and talk about issues, whatever they may be, major or minor.
In the country there is often an issue with isolation for those who live out of town or in more remote areas. The opportunity to drive for an hour, and get involved in a game of footy and then have a chat can be powerful.
The Get Talkin’ tour means that every club in the regions that are getting visited have people who have been upskilled and have the ability to be able to handle those hard conversations, if someone’s having a really rough time and needs to seek further assistance.
That’s how this comes together for me – the Get Talkin’ tour, into batyr, getting a positive message into the country. I’m really proud to have been a small part of it and what batyr have done.
It’s beyond people’s control
A rugby team is not like a normal work environment, in that the guys are very close. But if you get 35 or 40 blokes in one locker room bonded by one thing, you’re going to get on with some blokes better than others, and those will always keep an eye out for you.
It can be a tough environment if you feel like you’re not contributing as much as you should be. Often, from my experience, guys are harder on themselves than other blokes are on them.
For me, it’s one thing to be down or to be flat, or grieving if someone’s passed away or if you’ve broken up with a girlfriend. For me, that’s not a mental illness. That is stuff that people experience day to day.
My experience with mental illness is that it’s like an overpowering thing beyond people’s control.
So, while I’ve had times where I wished my form had been better, or someone close to me has passed away and I’ve been really sad and grieving, that, for me, is not a mental illness. I’ve never had to reach out to anyone in that regard.
But last year I had a mate who I could tell had the black dog. And I could tell that he was off. And it’s the first time where I’d been one of the initial people to realise this bloke was struggling.
I’ve spent a lot of time doing stuff with batyr and they run amazing programs, but when it comes down to one of your good mates, it’s like a three-foot putt when you’re going for it in golf, and you actually want the score to count.
You can hit three-footers on the practice green and you drain them all. When it’s your mate and you’re worried about him, the pressure is different. You just want to make sure you get things right.
I was very fortunate in who I met at batyr. I was able to call a few people, ask them how to approach it right. I gave my friend a call. It wasn’t awkward at all.
He was surprised that I’d picked it up but it was kind of a relief for him. And it was rewarding for me as well.
You never know when your turn might come to recognise something and it may not be just mental illness, but something else.
If I’m honest, I’m sure I’ve missed other opportunities with mates, with just a check-in and stuff. But you can’t beat yourself up about that, you’ve just got to be ready.
If this story has brought up strong feelings for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 46 or MensLine Australia on 1300 789 979.