Mental wellbeing in sport

Mr DULUK (Waite) (15:44): I would like to talk about attacking mental health in our community and how that interrelates with sport. We all know that sport comes with injuries—it is a fact of life—whether it is a rolled ankle, a fractured leg or a bad back, as the member for Hammond had—

Mr Pederick: An ACL.

Mr DULUK: —or an ACL from too many footy injuries, a strained hamstring or a broken nose. Playing sport can be and is tough on the body. But what happens when it is not a physical condition but a psychological one?

Last week was Mental Health Week, a week that aims to improve community awareness and interest in mental health and wellbeing. It encourages people to consider their own mental health as they would their physical health. A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of representing the Minister for Health and Wellbeing, the Hon. Stephen Wade in the other place, at the launch of Mental Wellbeing in Sport—a panel conversation hosted by the ABC's Ali Clarke, where tips and information were discussed about what to do if someone at a local sporting club is struggling with their mental health.

The SA Mental Health Commission and Sport SA were instrumental in making this forum occur. It is a great strength of the SA Mental Health Commission that it reaches out to the community and really listens to their concerns as they implement the SA Mental Health Strategic Plan. For me, it was an honour to open the forum. At the forum, there were some 200 people in attendance from 125 sporting organisations, representing 43 different sports, recreation and physical activities, from athletics, volleyball and gymnastics to rugby union, soccer, surf lifesaving, football and cricket. It was not just the big sports and the big clubs—SANFL and AFL—that were represented, but community-based sporting clubs and sporting codes were represented as well.

Those in attendance comprised players, parents, coaches, trainers and volunteers—who are seen so much in community clubs—umpires, sporting health professionals and administrative officers who ensure the success of these organisations every single time that they put players out onto the field. There is a huge contingent of sporting clubs in South Australia, with over 4,000 sporting clubs and 58 per cent of South Australia's population participating on a regular basis, supported by over 260,000 volunteers.

There are many benefits in sport. There are fantastic physical, social and psychological benefits of being involved in a sporting club. Playing sport can help you reach your fitness goals and maintain a healthy weight, allow for efficient functioning of the heart, reduce the rate of diabetes and encourage healthy decision-making, while also teaching us time-management skills and, importantly, building relationships and teamwork.

However, despite all these benefits, why are our sporting clubs and communities identifying anxiety, depression, suicide and of course managing depression and performance among their top mental health concerns? Mental health is characterised by emotional wellbeing and resilience to stress. The fact is that 45 per cent of Australians will experience a diagnosable mental health illness in their lifetime. Unfortunately, many people do not talk about mental health and to some it can be perceived as a weakness.

Sporting clubs will not be immune from the impacts of mental health issues. Often, they have their own unique issues, such as how to cope when a sporting career ends or an injury sidelines a player for months or even longer. We see that in professional athletes, especially, when they break down and experience the mental stress that goes with a physical breakdown for elite sportspeople. We want to increase the ability of players, parents and coaches to recognise the signs of mental illness among people in their club and to be able to initiate a conversation and point to resources that might help.

Mental health has historically languished unaddressed in the Australian sporting landscape, but several high-profile athletes have recently opened up about their battles with depression and anxiety, and sports administrators are looking for ways to act. Some of the well-known sporting people who have spoken recently about mental health issues include champion swimmers Ian Thorpe, Libby Trickett and Leisel Jones; rugby league players Darius Boyd and Dan Hunt; and AFL star Lance (Buddy) Franklin. They have all spoken about their struggles with mental health.

Through household names standing up and speaking out, I am hopeful that more people will be encouraged to ask for help when they are struggling with life's challenges. We know that community sport clubs across the country are leading the charge when it comes to promoting physical fitness, but a local sporting club can also support those who are experiencing mental health issues. One in five Australians experience mental ill health every year, and sport clubs can and do play a pivotal role in enhancing and supporting the positive mental health of its members, players and their families.

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