Men­tal health cour­ses to be of­fered at all Premier­ship rugby clubs

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Kate Rowan

Premier­ship Rugby is sig­nalling a rev­o­lu­tion in tack­ling men­tal health is­sues in the sport by in­sist­ing for the first time that all 12 clubs pro­vide cour­ses to help play­ers cope with the pres­sures of com­pet­ing at the top level, The Sun­day Tele­graph can re­veal.

The Rugby Foot­ball Union (RFU) and Premier­ship Rugby say the classes in men­tal well­be­ing will be given the same sta­tus as ex­ist­ing suc­cess­ful ed­u­ca­tional pro­grammes on con­cus­sion, anti-dop­ing and gam­bling aware­ness.

The new Player Wel­fare Ed­u­ca­tion strat­egy – of which the men­tal health ses­sions will play an in­te­gral part – will be de­liv­ered by the Rugby Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (RPA).

Ahead of World Men­tal Health Day on Wed­nes­day, the three bod­ies are join­ing forces, and have to­gether com­mis­sioned a ma­jor re­search pro­ject with Cardiff Met­ro­pol­i­tan Univer­sity to ex­am­ine and un­der­stand the psy­cho­log­i­cal load faced by play­ers in the English pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­ment, and how they cope in or­der to main­tain pos­i­tive health and well­be­ing.

The study, which be­gan last sea­son, will run over two years, with some find­ings due to be pub­lished in the com­ing months.

Nigel Melville, the RFU’s di­rec­tor of pro­fes­sional rugby, be­lieves the sur­vey – in­volv­ing on­line player sur­veys and face-to-face in­ter­views – is ground­break­ing, and will help to shape how ses­sions are de­liv­ered in the fu­ture.

Melville said: “We are ap­proach­ing men­tal well­be­ing from a place where there has been very lit­tle work done in this area over the years. We need to get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what we are deal­ing with in or­der to work out how to man­age it. There is a lot of sub­jec­tive de­bate but not an ob­jec­tive study that we can use to help shape pro­grammes.

“We have made great steps for­ward in ed­u­ca­tion around con­cus­sion, anti- dop­ing and anti-bet­ting and, from this, the word well­be­ing has come up. What is the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact of train­ing and play­ing on your life? Is there any­thing we can put in place?

“It is the same process we have put in place for these other ar­eas of the game and it all links into well­be­ing and play­ing, train­ing and life load.”

Ac­cord­ing to Melville, rugby is lead­ing the way.

He said: “You of­ten go to other sports to see what they are do­ing and there hasn’t been a lot of work done in this area – we can shape it with our pro­fes­sional game.”

RPA player li­ai­son of­fi­cer Chris­tian Day, who re­tired from Northamp­ton Saints last May, has wel­comed the move, hav­ing lost for­mer team-mates to sui­cide.

“Un­doubt­edly, men­tal health is a huge part of player load and it is some­thing that has re­ally come to the fore­front in re­cent years,” he said.

“I have had ex-team-mates who have un­for­tu­nately taken their lives, so it is un­doubt­edly an is­sue not just in rugby but in pro­fes­sional sport as a whole.

“I think the pres­sures, the stresses and the strains add up to an en­vi­ron­ment that cer­tainly needs look­ing at.”

Day be­lieves that all play­ers ex­pe­ri­ence high lev­els of stress and anx­i­ety over the course of a sea­son.

“Ev­ery sea­son, ev­ery game, ev­ery stress­ful point of time, you can feel it,” he said. “You start to build ways of cop­ing with that and the more ex­pe­ri­enced you are in sit­u­a­tions, the more com­fort­able you will feel but that stress is al­ways there at the back of your mind.”

The RPA pro­vides a con­fi­den­tial over-the-phone coun­selling ser­vice for its mem­bers, and Day has been shocked since re­tir­ing to learn of the num­ber of play­ers who use it.

He said: “Ev­ery train­ing room has this num­ber on the wall. I am as­tounded by how many peo­ple do use it. I don’t ob­vi­ously see who uses it but I see the num­bers of how many play­ers do use it and it ab­so­lutely stag­gers me how many peo­ple use that line.”

New field to ex­plore: Nigel Melville of the RFU be­lieves the new men­tal health sur­veys are ground-break­ing

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