OPINION: MELANIE WHELAN
HEROES making a cry for help creates a super-powerful impact.
They need to talk and we really need to listen.
This is a clear bat-signal kinda move that should help us to understand we too might need to better look after ourselves and each other mentally as well as physically.
We are increasingly seeing time out for mental health from AFL footballers, redefining what it is to be a warrior in the team game led by major stars Lance "Buddy" Franklin and Bulldog Tom Boyd.
Olympic bronze medallist and Commonwealth champion race walker Dane Bird-Smith has spoken out about his mental health struggles this week as the Australian Institute of Sport unveils its new mental health referral network for athletes.
This is a key step to improving the holistic well-being of our top athletes.
This should be a prompt to consider what more support and cultural shifts we could all make at the grassroots to help all athletes have the tools they need to perform at their best.
We need to be proactive.
Bird-Smith was on a routine training circuit along the Brisbane River one night when he stopped on the Story Bridge. His heart was not in his training, an all-too-familiar feeling, he was not enjoying his impressive feats.
He thought about ending it all and said it was the thought of needing to go home to feed his dogs that got him home that night and seeking help.
Sport at any level is as much about mental toughness as it is physical training and natural prowess. The higher you climb in sporting ranks, the more acute the focus, determination, the commitment you will find in athletes.
There are always goals to go swifter, higher, stronger.
In the growing professionalism and technology involved across all sporting fields, physical recovery is an art form. Is mental recovery getting lost along the way?
AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has declared mental health, rather than drugs or gambling, is the biggest issue in AFL football. Earlier this month McLachlan announced the league would appoint a mental health manager to help clubs deal with the issue.
Athletics by nature is more an isolating game for athletes who, despite having teams around them, ultimately have performance resting squarely on their own shoulders.
Ballarat javelin thrower Kathryn Mitchell went public in The Courier last year about her own dark place with suicidal thoughts and an eating disorder along her career.
Winning gold in the Commonwealth Games gave Mitchell a safe platform to reflect on how she had worked to mentally turn her game about - to "release the brakes" on her game and learn how to fly.
An experienced leader in the Australian athletics team, Mitchell wanted to give voice on what was largely a silent issue.
Soon after, Australian 400-metre champion and rising track star Morgan Mitchell revealed she was "cooked" and struggling with depression amid a tough 12 months following the Rio Olympic Games.
A faltering semi-final kept coming back to haunt her. She split with her coach. Her life spiralled and she found herself crying in the car before training and drinking to numb the pain.
We expect so much from our athletes each and every time they step out in action. We celebrate their triumphs and commiserate their sporting tough breaks.
But we rarely see the hard work, sacrifices and pressures to get them to the start line.
They are only human but can teach us a super lesson in being so.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- QLife on 1800 184 527
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
Have you signed up to The Courier's variety of news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.