Rise in number of people checking in on their mental health

Picture: PHOTOSPORT.

The number of people contacting a New Zealand Rugby mental health website has almost tripled in the last couple of months.

The Headfirst website allows people to take self-tests for anxiety or depression.

The website has been around since 2017 and in its first year had almost 14,000 visit…. that number has grown steadily since.

It uses players like Keven Mealamu, Ruby Tui, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Du’Plessis Kirifi as ambassadors to help get the message across, but it’s not just for rugby players and supporters.

Dr Nathan Price has been with New Zealand Rugby for six years and is their education and Wellbeing Manager and leads the Headfirst programme.

He says during the Covid-19 pandemic the web traffic has grown significantly.

“It’s more than doubled, not quite tripled, the visits are much higher, people are looking at different ways to understand how to get through this time and how to be proactive in it.

“I think it’s awesome that people are actually looking for this and trying to find ways to support their own wellbeing and that hasn’t always been the case.”

Dr Price says feedback has shown them that there is a growing proportion of non-rugby people going onto the website.

“They may just be a rugby fan or they may not be a rugby fan at all, but the resources that are on there are generic in the sense that it’s those strategies and tips and where to ask for help that are on there are the important part of it.”

It’s a little known fact that women have higher rates of depression than men.

“Typically men don’t talk well and in rugby that may be exaggerated even more stereotypically because of that hard as nails persona and stereotypically women are far better at talking.

“But we all cope differently with this and women are an important and growing area in rugby and we’re really blessed to have someone like Ruby Tui involved in Headfirst who can help share her story, her messages and be such an amazing advocate for women’s wellbeing.”

For many club players the current climate has been tough, some losing jobs and struggling financially.

Dr Price says being part of a team can be a vehicle for finding help.

“Rugby environments can have a really important part in player wellbeing and as such can be a really positive influence in wellbeing and we’ll try and work with clubs to put on workshops and support them to be that kind of environment and have that culture.

“We want rugby clubs to become a safe space for people to share how they’re going and a space where mental health doesn’t have a stigma attached to it and that it’s a network of support and to build up clubs to be those spaces is really important to us.”

Males under 25 and Māori and Pasifika men remain high risk groups for mental illness.

“It absolutely remains a concern and rugby in a away kind of works with a high risk group in terms of our mental health, says Dr Price.

“We work a lot with under 25’s and 75 percent of mental illnesses starts before the age of 25, we work with a high male population and again we know what our statistics are around our male suicide rates and we work with lots of Māori and Pasifika and they’re also overrepresented in the statistics.

“That’s the kind of hard to reach community in a sense and that is where rugby has a real opportunity and probably an obligation to support these communities and provide messages through rugby that can help them grow as people, help them look after their wellbeing and also look after their performance if they want to go down a rugby path.”

Unfortunately the issue of mental health is a growing one and Dr Price knows there is a lot more to do.

“It feels like there is so much work to do and for us our goal is to get out to our community clubs and support those people with messages around wellbeing and if we can build this mental health literacy around our rugby communities then we can see a change that transforms rugby. It goes into society; it goes into whānau and iwi.

“We want to reduce the stigma around mental health in rugby… it’s okay to not be okay.”

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