Local AFL clubs come together to tackle high suicide rates

In the Illawarra Shoalhaven, three out of four suicide deaths are men. Sporting clubs are often close knit communities, and are well placed to notice when someone is struggling – particularly amongst their players, coaching staff or committee members.

In recognition of the key role they have in reducing suicide, the University of Wollongong (UOW) Bulldogs and Wollongong Lions AFL clubs are holding a mental health and suicide prevention round this weekend.

The idea started with Adam Weston, a UOW Bulldog’s player, who 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," said Adam.

"The message we want to get out there is ‘How to talk to someone about any issues’. Issues are always going to come up, but we can make sure we’ve got the skills and confidence to talk about it," he added.

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

"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," said Adam.

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

"It’s a real credit to our coach, Lee, as he always says that you’re never alone at this club and we feel that translates to life off the field as well," he added.

The UOW Bulldogs will rollout Question Persuade Refer (QPR) training amongst its players so they are equipped to have these conversations. 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.

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

Former premiership AFL 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," says Wayne. "We need to create the environments for every person to have authentic and genuine conversations about mental health and emotional wellbeing".

The round took place on Saturday 25th August at Keira Oval, Wollongong.

If you or someone you know needs support now, please call Lifeline 24/7 on 13 11 14 or click here to view other support services.