A RISE in AFL footballers taking time away from the game for mental injury is helping players to speak up more at grassroots level, Buninyong's club president says.
The Bombers have long made a clear on-field stance on mental health and suicide prevention with awareness matches, including the third annual Shanahan Cup against Clunes on Saturday to continue the legacy of former soldier and firefighter Nathan Shanahan's Walking Off the War Within.
Buninyong president Phillip Wilson said it was important to encourage the wider community, men and women, to talk about a complex and seemingly taboo issue.
More AFL players publicly taking time off to better their mental health, he said, helped reinforce the message mental health could affect anyone - and it was all right to ask for help.
You don't know about it if you don't see it.Phillip Wilson, Buninyong Football Netball Club president
"It stays hidden out there otherwise," Mr Wilson said. "When you see the big stars suffering it really says something - and they've probably got more support at their clubs than anyone. But, you don't know about it if you don't see it."
North Melbourne recruit Aaron Hall is the latest AFL player to take indefinite leave from his club for his mental health. This comes in the same week Collingwood Dayne Beams opened up about his mental health struggles.
Collingwood's Dayne Beams described himself as a "broken man". Click on the photo below for more
Former AFL player Wayne Schwass told Victoria's mental health royal commission the word stigma was not strong enough to accurately describe society's attitude towards mental illness. He revealed his career battle with depression after retiring.
Mr Schwass had previously told The Courier the football industry was not ready to tackle mental health as an issue in his playing days. He was at the top of his game in 1996 as a North Melbourne vice-captain and premiership player while mentally acutely hurting in the grips of depression.
John Shanahan said football was a great tool for raising awareness but the AFL still had a long way to go in terms of the money it invested in mental health.
We want people to come and talk about it and to be comfortable talking about it. We can erase the myths about mental health.John Shanahan, Walking Off the War Within
Mr Shanahan said it meant so much to his family and for his son Nathan's legacy that Buninyong and Clunes continue to play for the Shanahan Cup and keep involving men and women in effectively saving lives.
"I've told them if they need help to speak up, don't just allow it to build up," Mr Shanahan said. "We want people to come and talk about it and to be comfortable talking about it. We can erase the myths about mental health."
Nathan Shanahan died by suicide in December 2016 after long struggles with post-traumatic stress and depression. He made clear his "war within", walking 400 kilometres solo from his home in Mildura to Adelaide carrying a 25-kilogram pack in April 2015 to support Soldier On, which provides support for physically and psychologically servicemen and women.
Fellow Ballarat City firefighters continued the event, which now also takes places in Warrnambool, across the Northern Territory and Canberra each year.
Mr Shanahan said football clubs were an important part of Nathan's life - he played for 13 clubs across Australia. The Shanahans have strong family ties to the Buninyong and Clunes communities. Mr Shanahan said football-netball clubs were a great place to help spark cultural change.
He hoped change would reach far further into the corporate world, with companies actively better looking after workers, and politically where action was slow.
Meanwhile, frontline health and welfare workers, with community leaders, are part of a national place-based suicide prevention trial starts in Ballarat this week. The forum aims to fill support gaps in the system and build on work already creating change, like Ballarat and District Suicide Prevention Network.
Victorian Coroner Caitlin English called for urgent, greater information and data sharing to prevent suicides of Australian Defence Force personnel in an inquest to Nathan Shanahan's death, release in April.
Meanwhile, the Victorian mental health royal commission continues on Monday, predominantly this week focusing on access to and navigation to the state's mental health system. A one-day regional hearing will be in Maryborough on July 15.
Where to find help
There is a wealth of professional support for men to seek help for mental or physical help. The key message is that you are not alone.
This can include:
Lifeline: 13 11 14 for 24 hours/seven days a week crisis support or lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467
Mens line: 1300 789 978 or mensline.org.au
Survivors of Suicide: 0449 913 535
Relationships Australia: 1800 050 321
headspace Ballarat (for 12-25s and parent support): 5304 4777
Solider On: 1300 620 380
Western Bulldogs' Sons of the West men's health program: 5331 6966 (Sports Central)
Ballarat Community Health: 5338 4500
QLife: 1800 184 527 (Support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex)
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