Mental health courses to be offered at all Premiership rugby clubs
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