A MENTAL health support program that has started at the Bathurst Bulldogs might become a template for sporting clubs throughout the state to follow.
The Bulldogs are pioneering what is being called the Blue Elephant program, in which a support co-ordinator is nominated at the club to act as a link between those who are struggling and the organisations that can help them.
The idea has come from former Bulldogs colts coach Damien Grant, but it is being pushed by Central West Rugby, which hopes to roll the program out into all rugby clubs in country NSW.
Mr Grant said he lost a mate 20 years ago to suicide, but it was a run of similar tragedies more recently among people he knew – as well as the high-profile loss to suicide of former Wallaby Dan Vickerman – that convinced him something more needed to be done.
“We need to have support networks out there,” he said.
“We know that we have got the agencies [to help]. It’s getting people to go to them that is our challenge.”
Mr Grant said he had not previously fully understood the depth of the problem.
“While I was at a wake for a friend at the beginning of the year, I had a couple of people say to me that they had contemplated it [ending their life] themselves,” he said.
“I just woke up the next day and thought, how many others are like that?
“It's a sobering realisation that it's [depression] out there and there's plenty of resources out there, but we just have to get people to be able to engage with them – which I think is the biggest challenge: get the elephant in the room to speak up.”
Central West Rugby asked all its clubs earlier this year to nominate a support co-ordinator.
Nominated co-ordinators were then invited to a mental health workshop which was held at the Bathurst Bulldogs clubhouse recently.
The workshop featured speakers including a representative from the Red Cross and Lifeline Central West CEO Alex Ferguson.
Mr Grant said the idea behind the support co-ordinator is that they will not only put people in touch with support organisations, but will also keep an eye on those involved with the club – players, coaches and supporters – for a concerning sign of change in their behaviour.
“We have RUOK Day. My theory is every day is RUOK Day,” he said.
Mr Grant emphasised that the support co-ordinators will not be counsellors, but be someone who can act as a conduit between those who need help and the organisations that provide it.
He believes the program could easily be adapted to be used in workplaces.