THE power of team sport mentality will be explored in a new mental health intervention that has attracted 50 sporting clubs on Sydney’s Central Coast to help adolescent males.

Led by University of Newcastle researcher Dr Drew Miller, the landmark study has been embraced by Central Coast Football and Central Coast Junior AFL, with basketball, swimming, tennis and cricket clubs also signing on.

Dr Miller said rugby league and rugby union officials declined to participate because they already had their own in-house programs dealing with mental health issues.

Wyong Lakes AFL president Simon Wood and Jodie McNaughton at Don Small Oval, Tacoma (Wyong Lakes’ home ground) The club is a big support of a university study into mental health of adolescent males, after the suicide of a former player Rhys McNaughton (Jodie’s son). Picture: Sue Graham

The intervention study intends to leverage team-oriented cultures at sporting clubs to encourage awareness and acceptance of help seeking behaviours and is will be introduced at a junior AFL club presidents meeting next week.

“We know (that for) males in the 12-17 age group, and particularly in sporting environments, the awareness and help seeking isn’t as great as it should be due to the stigma surrounding mental illness,” Dr Miller said.

He said the acknowledgment of personal mental health issues by high profile sportspeople such as Sydney Swans player Buddy Franklin was helping to reduce that stigma.

“We can play off that ­increased awareness and encourage them to consider ‘you help your mates on the field, why not help them off it too’,” he said.

Sydney Swans player Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin has been open about his struggles with mental health. Picture: Phil Hillyard

Wyong Lakes AFL club members know only too well the potential impact of mental health issues, after the death of former teammate Rhys McNaughton last year.

McNaughton, who won a premiership with Wyong Lakes, took his own life in late October at the age of 24.

Magpies club president Simon Wood has embraced the University of Newcastle’s study.

“Rhys McNaughton played for our club and his loss deeply affected a great many of our members,” Mr Wood said. “And we’ve had a number of our members who have been affected by mental health issues.”

Rhys’ mother Jodie, who has herself experienced mental health issues, ­described the research as “awesome”.

“I know what it’s like to be in those shoes; communication is the key,” Ms McNaughton said.

Rhys McNaughton modelled for a photography book John Bortolin. Picture: John Bortolin

Funded by the Movember Foundation, the study will be undertaken in conjunction with the University of Wollongong as well as several peak sports bodies and mental health organisations, including the Australian Drug Foundation, The Black Dog Institute, Cricket Australia, Swimming Australia and the Australian Football League.

With more than two thirds of all adolescent males participating in organised sports each year and half of all mental health issues displaying onset before the age of 14, researchers believe the environment could be very powerful in helping young people find help early.

Dr Miller’s research team is seeking volunteer mentors who are over the age of 18, are involved in sport and have experienced a mental health illness, to help ­deliver the initiative.

Details: [email protected] or ­[email protected]

If you or someone you know needs help, please call:

■ Lifeline 13 11 14

■ Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

This article first appeared on ‘The Daily Telegraph’ on 4 February 2016.


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