General News — 02 June 2014
Tragedy inspires push for new approach to mental health issues

Donald Kuah believes he may have been the one of the last people rookie Wests Tigers forward Mosese Fotuaika spoke to before he took his own life last year.

Now the former Tigers doctor believes it is critical the NRL adopts a game-wide approach to mental health, claiming most clubs are underqualified to handle the issue.

“Most of the welfare officers at NRL clubs don’t have the right training to make assessments and decisions regarding players with mental health issues,’’ Kuah told The Australian yesterday.

“My feeling is that they certainly should be made aware but then have someone else to go to, be it a sports psychologist or a counsellor or psychiatrist, who can make that assessment and advise.’’

Kuah and Tigers NSW Cup doctor Etienne Du Preez are the driving force behind a proposed study into the prevalence of mental health issues among professional rugby league players.bigstock-Mental-Health-Warning--32532146

The proposal is awaiting approval from the ARL Commission and Rugby League Players Association, as well as ethics approval from the academic institution that will conduct the study.

The NRL hopes the study will under way by November and will focus on the impact of issues such as injury, retirement, termination and relocation across the NRL and NYC.

Kuah said the tragic suicides last season involving Fotuaika, and North Queensland rookie Alex Elisala had helped fast-track proceedings with both the NRL and the players union.

The former Tigers medico also revealed how Fotuaika’s death — the Tigers rookie took his own life after tearing his pectoral muscle on the eve of the season — had personally affected him.

“It was difficult because I probably was one of the last people that he spoke to on the phone at the time,’’ Kuah said. “I took a call and he had had his pec injury and I organised to see him the first thing the following morning before I started with my other patients.

“I heard it on the radio on my drive there and I actually pulled aside and stopped my car just to catch myself.

“I’d known him for the previous two years and he was a lovely but very quiet young man. He didn’t show his hand that much and it came as a real shock. Certainly prior to that I wasn’t aware that he had issues.’’

The NRL hopes to have a large sample study to call on and aims to include about 30 per cent of the 800 players that compete in the NRL and the NYC.

Kuah said the research would be crucial in identifying and treating players with mental health issues. before they become a serious problem.

“We all do screenings on strength testing and physio screenings and medical screenings and a concussion test at the start of the season,’’ Kuah said.

“There are also appropriate screening tools for mental health issues and maybe that’s something that may need to be incorporated.’’

Kuah said the issue of mental health was just as important as any other that has confronted the code, including recent pushes to address the shoulder charge, concussions and dangerous throws.

The issue resurfaced only last week after Penrith centre Jamal Idris was granted indefinite leave to deal with personal matters including depression and alcohol abuse.

“The only difference is the issues like spear tackles, head highs and concussions are very visible on television,’’ Kuah said.

“The issues of mental health are hidden from the cameras and are often concealed either by the player, their manager or the club.

“That’s understandable because we don’t it all to become public but what we do want is that there are the right avenues for those issues to be dealt with appropriately.’’

This article first appeared on The Australian on 2 June, 2014.

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