General General News — 12 March 2019

The AFL’s hiring of a head of mental health for the league follows a year-long review, conducted by an independent committee and involving all 18 clubs and their players as the industry strives towards ‘‘utopia’’ for its treatment of mental wellbeing.

Some of the biggest stars of the game, including Sydney’s Lance Franklin, premiership Bulldog Tom Boyd and most recently St Kilda’s Jack Steven are among those to have stepped away from the game to deal with mental health issues.

The group, known as the Industry Governance Committee, was set up by the players association as part of the $2.1 million the AFLPA spend on player development each year.

Brisbane Lions football boss David Noble, North Melbourne player Jamie MacMillan and leading player agent Tom Petroro, were part of the specially formed group that collected data from all 18 clubs to get a sense of how players viewed the treatment of mental health.

The independent review will see the AFL and clubs pour more money into player development and concentrate on the access that players have to individual support.

One of the other major outcomes from the review will see the league hire a head of mental health, who will oversee the programs of all 18 clubs and answer to football boss Steve Hocking.

But with the space still relatively new in the game, not all 18 clubs have full-time registered psychologists, which has seen several players go through the players’ association to seek professional help.

While the systems inside clubland will ultimately improve over time, AFLPA boss Paul Marsh maintained it was important that players had options. “Some players will want to access club support, some players may want to access support outside of the club network and it’s important we have an independent system,” Marsh told The Age at the AFLPA season launch.

“We are trying to address the environment around our footballers surrounding mental health.

“Time away from footy has been a real focus, players having meaningful time at the club and making sure they have balance away from footy, that’s utopia for us, that we are progressing those areas.

“It’s a proactive approach to mental health management.”

Steven, who remains interstate as he takes some time away from football, is still yet to be ruled out of the Saints’ opening round game against Gold Coast. He could return home as early as this week and is said to be doing well.

This piece by Sam McClure was originally published on ‘The Age‘, 5 March 2019.

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