Football tackles mental health issues

FOOTBALL and netball leagues across Gippsland are making holistic health their goal, by banding together to support a region-wide Mental Health Round this season.

All seven senior football and netball leagues in Gippsland will participate in the initiative, developed by AFL Gippsland and the Gippsland Mental Health Alliance.

As part of AFL Gippsland Mental Health Round on 11 July, the senior football and A grade netball teams of every home club will wear light blue football socks and netball bibs to raise awareness of mental health issues in the community.

GMHA is also conducting information sessions for each participating league and offering specialised sessions for all interested clubs across the region.

AFL Gippsland region general manger Travis Switzer praised the response of the local sports community.

“North Gippsland Football Netball League started this initiative last year and we jumped at the opportunity to expand it to include all the senior leagues in our region,” Switzer said.

“As far as we’re aware, this is the first time an entire region has dedicated a round of local competition to raising awareness of mental health issues and we should all be very proud.

“If we can change one life, one person’s approach to mental health, or persuade one club to appoint a mental health officer, it will be a worthwhile exercise.”

The Gippsland region has a suicide rate well above the state and national average.

Latrobe Regional Hospital director of mental health and chair of the GMHA, Cayte Hoppner, said football and netball clubs had an important role to play in addressing the issue.

“Every football and netball club faces mental health issues at some stage, but many don’t have the necessary resources to support someone going through it,” Hoppner said.

“This initiative aims to engage the general sporting community in a discussion about mental health to reduce stigma, and give factual and accurate information about access to services and treatment.”

Former AFL champion and AFL Gippsland Mental Health Round ambassador Wayne Schwass has been calling for a similar initiative to be introduced to the AFL.

Schwass, who founded non-profit organisation The Sunrise Foundation, hoped Gippsland’s pro-active approach was a game-changer.

“Mental illness is still an elephant in the room when it comes to footy and netball clubs and we need to bring it out of the dark,” Schwass said.

“Clubs need to be able to recognise the signs in people that might be struggling and those suffering need to know there is help available to them.

“It’s fantastic to see a regional community stand up and take ownership of this issue and hopefully it leads to positive change in Gippsland and beyond.”

AFL Gippsland Mental Health Round will take place at football grounds and netball courts across Gippsland on the weekend of Saturday, 11 July.

Due to the split round in North Gippsland Football Netball League, Sale City and Woodside football netball clubs will participate in the initiative this weekend.