Footballers tackle mental health problems

Footballers tackle mental health problems

By Liz Lockhart

New moves to tackle the mental health of football players in Australia have been made by the AFL. 

In what has been called a world sporting first, AFL club leadership groups will be trained to provide guidance for teammates.   The groups will be trained in how to give off-field support on how to deal with mental health and substance abuse issues.

Last year saw the introduction of the Play Well programme which is run by six former players and was designed to help first and second-year players deal with physical, emotional and psychological health.  This has encouraged the AFL Players Association to further the help which is available to players, and this year has seen this programme extended to include third and fourth-year players. 

Play Wise will be run by the AFLPA and Headspace, the youth mental health foundation.  The programme will see senior players initially put through three workshops which will be conducted by a psychologist and former AFL star to help them tackle sensitive subjects with teammates who are experiencing personal problems.  They will be taught how best to encourage them to access help.

A recent AFLPA development and wellbeing report highlights that the stigma once associated with seeking help when struggling with mental demons has now all but faded.

Last season players sought help through their union for a range of mental health conditions which are topped by stress, anxiety and depression, relationship troubles, medical/injury and football performance.  127 cases were referred to the AFLPA’s psychologists across the country.  The list did not include anyone seeking help for alcohol or gambling abuse.

AFLPA’s wellbeing services manager, Matti Clements is encouraged that players appear to be recognising their problems earlier and are proactive in seeking help.  She says ‘Stress is a normal part of life.  It can be stress around relocating, it can be stress around not getting a kick, just the demands of time management skills.  The guys are learning there is good and bad stress.  You need stress to function.  It’s about knowing if they have got too much stress.’

Clements concluded that players were always going to experience stress but now programmes were in place to hopefully deal with any problem.

We hope that this innovation is adopted in the UK and that the recent death of Gary Speed, coupled with high profile sports personalities speaking out about mental illness, sparks moves to better help the mental health of athletes here.

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