Talking about mental health issues 'can literally be life-saving' video

New Zealand Rugby

Campaign launched to tackle mental health in rugby.

Black Ferns Sevens player Ruby Tui says the most courageous people are the ones who speak up about their feelings when it is the last thing they want to do.

The 25-year-old rugby player said it was about time the stigma around mental health issues, particularly in the rugby world, were broken down.

"There's a stigma in New Zealand that rugby men are really strong and don't need help.

Black Ferns Sevens player Ruby Tui says opening up about mental health issues is the first step to tackling them.
SUPPLIED/NZR

Black Ferns Sevens player Ruby Tui says opening up about mental health issues is the first step to tackling them.

"Being tough isn't just a physical concept, it's mental too," Tui said.

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Last week, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) launched Headfirst, a campaign to target the rugby community's mental health.

Ruby Tui, right, in 2012 during the Go4Gold Women's Sevens Programme.
DON SCOTT/FAIRFAX NZ

Ruby Tui, right, in 2012 during the Go4Gold Women's Sevens Programme.

The website Headfirst.co.nz is the new port of call for players, parents, coaches and volunteers for information about mental fitness, health and wellbeing.

Tui is one of many familiar faces in New Zealand rugby backing the campaign, which also features All Blacks legend Keven Mealamu, All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith and former Chiefs and Junior All Blacks prop James McGougan.

Tui was shocked by New Zealand's mental health statistics, which placed men under the age of 25, particularly Maori and Pasifika, at the highest risk of mental health issues and ultimately, suicide.

Blues hooker and former All Black Keven Mealamu is one of the faces of Headfirst, the New Zealand Rugby campaign to ...
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

Blues hooker and former All Black Keven Mealamu is one of the faces of Headfirst, the New Zealand Rugby campaign to raise awareness of mental health in the rugby community.

"In the rugby world, I've had team mates come and talk to me about thoughts of suicide and one close team mate attempt it.

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"All those issues are avoidable if you get to them first before they escalate, it can literally be lifesaving."

Tui said there was a "huge lacking" in education about mental health.

Olympic silver medallists Kelly Brazier, Portia Woodman, Sarah Goss and Ruby Tui attend an under-15 girls rugby ...
ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Olympic silver medallists Kelly Brazier, Portia Woodman, Sarah Goss and Ruby Tui attend an under-15 girls rugby tournament in August.

"We become adults and don't realise we've still got a lot of growing to do mentally and it's something that does take a long time to master. But what people need to know is it's doable, we can get over these things.

"To me, the most courageous men and women are the ones who want to talk about these issues," she said.

From club rugby to professional roles, Tui said the pressures were enormous and it was natural to feel stressed.

"People look at rugby players and think they've got such amazing lives . . . but the stresses that come along with being expected to perform and the fear of failure . . . it's huge.

NZR education manager Dr Nathan Price said one in five Kiwis experienced mental illness each year and our youth suicide rate was one of the highest in the OECD. 

"Rugby is in a unique position to contribute to the conversation around mental health and wellbeing.

"There is a perception that rugby players are tough and asking for help is a sign of weakness. Our campaign is explicitly about breaking that down. Asking for help is actually incredibly courageous and very tough."

Originally from the West Coast, Tui lived in Christchurch for five years, studying at the University of Canterbury and then playing for the Canterbury 15s and 17s.

Tui is currently training for the HSBC World Rugby Women's Sevens series in Japan next month.

 - Stuff

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