One in four people in the UK are affected by mental health issues each year and sportsmen and women are no exception. To encourage players to discuss their mental health, the Rugby Players' Association (RPA) has launched a campaign aiming to break down stigma around the topic.
The new 'Lift the Weight' website offers information on mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, as well as interviews with high profile players sharing their experiences.
The RPA hopes the site will reach players at all levels, enabling members to "enjoy a healthy and fulfilling life, both on the field and off it".
According to the RPA, the pressures and strains that can act as a catalyst to mental health issues "are magnified for professional sportspeople". "From coping with injury and intense pressure to perform week in, week out, to facing constant media scrutiny and meeting the high expectations of fans, players experience a unique set of pressures," the site explains. "Despite a number of high-profile elite athletes speaking out about their own struggles with mental health, the stigma around these issues remains. Don't suffer in silence. Lift the weight."
As part of the campaign, James Haskell (Wasps and England), Nolli Waterman (England Women), Kane Palma-Newport (Bath), Netani Talei (Harlequins), Jono Kitto (Leicester Tigers), Ollie Phillips (former England 7s), Matt Hankin (Saracens) and former England internationals Jonny Wilkinson and Duncan Bell have shared their own personal experiences of mental health issues in a series of candid interviews.
In his video interview, Haskell explains how he copes with anxiety. "I started when I was about 19. When I was at Wasps I was really struggling with confidence at playing at first team level and feeling 'was I worthy to be there?' and 'how could I perform better?'" he says. "Some days you feel tired, some days you feel bad, sometimes something may be happening off the field, but you want to make sure you always find a level of consistency." He reveals he's seen a sports psychologist throughout his career to help him deal with these pressures and keep at the top of his game. "We talk about all sorts of things and she gave me the ability to use music as a tool for preparing for games, making notes, that kind of stuff," he says. "I started to believe in myself and it helped me perform." He recommends anyone struggling with feelings of anxiety should reach out and talk to someone about it. "You have to get up and address it," he says. "Life is for living...nothing is as bad as you think it is and a problem shared is a problem halved."
Haskell's full interview and others are now available to view at the new #LiftTheWeight hub, alongside other resources, links and advice relating to a range of mental health issues. The hub is accessible to both professional players and the general public and also hosts a 24/7 confidential counselling service, provided by Cognacity.
Commenting on the launch, RPA Group CEO, Damian Hopley said: "Mental health issues can affect anybody at any time and, as I know from my own early retirement from playing, rugby players are no exception. "We're extremely grateful to our ambassadors for their openness and honesty in speaking out about their experiences of a subject that still carries stigma throughout society. "We believe this campaign will provide essential support to any of our members who need it, but will also inspire the wider public to be open about mental health and seek help if they are struggling in any way."
You can access the site now at theRPA.co.uk/lifttheweight .