Sir John Kirwan believes open discussion on suicide the key to curbing statistics

Kirwan has been a mental illness advocate since his retirement from the game.
Phil Walter

Kirwan has been a mental illness advocate since his retirement from the game.

All Blacks legend Sir John Kirwan has called on rugby players to use the same philosophy with head injuries as they do with standard leg injuries.

His advice follows the death of former Wallabies lock Dan Vickerman.

Vickerman was found dead in Australia on Saturday night. It's understood he committed suicide.

Kirwan has been a mental illness advocate since his retirement from the game.

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In an interview with Radio Sport, he said it was the advice of a specialist who helped put the illness into perspective for him.

"I went to a specialist and told her I was a rugby player. She asked what I would do with a tight hamstring, and I said I'd stop and stretch it," he told Radio Sport.

"If it was still tight, I'd ice it and go see a physio. She said the brain was no different and that put it in a simple way for me - I thought 'I've got a hamstring in my head'.

"I put some ice on it, which at the time meant taking some medication that helped bring some balance back in my life, and went to the physio, which was called a psychiatrist. I started on my journey of wellness."

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He said people need to start talking about suicide more if they want to stop it.

"We need to teach mental health in the schools. We teach them maths and science, but not that things might not go to plan and you need to have your mental health in order," he told Radio Sport.

Kirwan believed the pressures on sportsmen meant they were more susceptible to mental illness "especially when they finish, because the lights go down and the phone stops ringing".

"I think the pressure on young people to succeed in professional sport is a very, very difficult time and we're quite obsessive by nature. We're very committed to one thing and you have to be to make it, so there are some tendencies in our sport that make us susceptible to mental health issues."

Where to get help:

If you or someone you know needs help, please get in contact with these crisis services:

• Lifeline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354

• Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757

• Healthline (open 24/7) – 0800 611 116

• Samaritans (open 24/7) – 0800 726 666

• Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

• Your local Rural Support Trust – 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)



 - Stuff

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