24-hour mental health helpline launched for rugby players

11 August 2017 - 12:30 By Staff Reporter
South African Rugby Legend's Association to tackle mental health.
South African Rugby Legend's Association to tackle mental health.

The climb to the top may be hard‚ but life after sport can be even harder. The suicide of former Australian international rugby player Dan Vickermann at the age of 37 earlier this year has prompted the South African Rugby Legend's Association to tackle mental health.

A helpline staffed by mental health professionals has been launched for the rugby fraternity.

The number is 0860 995 149.

Since Vickerman's death in February‚ it has emerged that depression had dogged him following his retirement from professional rugby.

"We are starting to talk more openly about how depression and other mental illnesses can impact the well-being of athletes‚" said SARLA CEO Stefan Terblanche.

"Former rugby players and other sports professionals can be drastically affected‚ particularly when they transition from the locker room to the boardroom‚ or any life after sport. The change in lifestyle can be extremely difficult and we need to address these issues before we hear of any more deaths like Dan’s‚" said Terblanche.

In 2015‚ the association said it‚ along with the SA Rugby Player’s Association‚ SA Rugby‚ the Union des Jouers de Rugby Professionals and the Irish Rugby Union Players Association‚ participated in research conducted by UCT’s Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine‚ along with the University of Amsterdam’s Academic Centre for Evidence Based Sports Medicine‚ focusing on emotional health issues amongst retired professional rugby players from France‚ Ireland and South Africa.

The study questionnaire allowed 295 former players between the ages of 35 to 48 to give honest and insightful feedback to researchers‚ the association said in a statement. Preliminary results showed a wide variety of emotional symptoms that had adversely affected participants since retiring‚ from symptoms of distress and depression to sleep disturbances‚ adverse alcohol use behaviour‚ smoking and poor eating habits.

“The findings were clearly an indication that not much is being done to identify potential mental health issues at an early stage of a professional’s career‚ or that much is being done at any level to address this"‚ said Terblanche.

“As a retired professional player myself‚ I know what it is like to go from being much lauded and well-looked after in a team environment‚ to going out and managing your life on your own afterwards”‚ he said.

“For some the transition is manageable but‚ for others who have literally stepped out of a school environment into the structures of a professional rugby club or team‚ it is not so easy‚” he added.

“This is where organisations such as SARLA and SARPA are able to offer some guidance and assistance.”

SARLA said it was concerned that even after the findings of the mental health study were released‚ nothing was implemented to help players who were struggling.

The association said it‚ along with SARPA‚ has launched a 24-hour mental health helpline for any current and former players in need of assistance‚ as a first step towards offering help to players.

"Anyone who feels distressed or in need of support is welcome to contact the help line."