When people think of mental health, anxiety and depression typically spring to mind, and many would consider the absence of either of these to mean that their wellbeing is in check. Not so. We now understand that mental health is so much more than the absence of illness and distress; and importantly, research shows us that mental health and wellbeing can be enriched using simple and practical strategies.
Mental health is a state of wellbeing where a person has the ability to cope with everyday stressors, work productively, contribute to their community and fulfil their potential. Wellbeing matters – a lot. Statistics reported by beyondblue show that one in five men will experience anxiety and one in eight men will experience depression at some stage during their lives. We also know that 75 percent of mental illness emerges before the age of 25 years. All this means that in any AFL senior list, up to eight teammates have likely battled one or both of these conditions, or are doing so right now.
Benefits of higher wellbeing:
– Greater resilience
– Lower stress
– Better physical health
– Better quality relationships
– Live longer
– Perform better
Mental health is about functioning well psychologically, emotionally and socially, and the flow on effects of increasing wellbeing are well worth your time. And, you’ll have more time, because people with high wellbeing live longer. They also experience closer and more supportive relationships, more pro-social behavior, are physically healthier and have lower stress levels.
Inevitably, we are all confronted with difficult challenges that can rock our mental health. Those with higher wellbeing seek help more quickly and difficult experiences are less likely to lead to depression and anxiety. Of great concern is the knowledge that depression increases the risk of suicide, which is the leading cause of death for Australian men under the age of 44. Approximately five Australian men suicide every day, while others make attempts to do so.
Australian Rules is a game of highs and lows. Pressure to perform comes from everywhere – and performance can now be applauded or admonished 24/7. While players hope for longer, the average AFL career is a mere five-six years; and careers can be cut even shorter with injury. Unsurprisingly, long term injury is reported to cause anxiety, depression and mood swings in AFL players. Longevity in the game and injury aside, peak performance is dependent on optimal psychological state.
Implementing strategies to increase wellbeing isn’t just about playing better footy; the benefits extend to every aspect of life and are enjoyed long after hanging up the boots. Time outside of footy is a perfect place to start working on your wellbeing; one way is to find an activity that plays to your strengths and gives you a sense of meaning and purpose.
“We support current and past players to maximise their potential by providing individual psychology support, small group workshops and creative campaigns that focus on enhancing wellbeing, as well as preventing mental illness,” says Dr Jo Mitchell, Wellbeing Manager and Clinical Psychologist at the AFL Players’ Association.
One strikingly simple but powerful campaign is the Five Ways to Wellbeing (5W2W), which encourages people to think about the daily activities that enhance wellbeing under five key themes – connect, move, tune-in, learn and give.
At the January 2015 AFL Players Induction Camp for new recruits, players were introduced to this concept by the Wellbeing team and past player, David Rodan.
Incidence of mental illness in Australian men:
– Depression 1 in 8 men
– Anxiety 1 in 5 men
– 5 men suicide everyday
– 75 percent of mental illness emerges before the age of 25
To kick the wellbeing workshop off, Rodan got the players up and dancing and talked about how dance and music were his outlets from the pressure and stress of football life. The players were then asked to identify their own ways to look after their wellbeing.
Over 400 players have participated in this campaign by sharing their 5W2W. Matt de Boer gives back to the world as a RSPCA ambassador, Brent Staker finds time to tune-in through mediation or simply sitting at the beach, and Ted Richards likes to learn about other team sports and athlete experiences.
From former Swan Ryan O’Keefe’s passion for cooking to the Podiatry studies of Carlton’s Dennis Armfield, there are plenty of players looking after their wellbeing, maximizing their potential and preparing for life beyond football. From surfing to saxophone, basketball to Bachelor degrees, there are countless avenues to explore.
Bombers utility Brendon Goddard clearly loves a round of golf – he headed to the US after the 2014 season for a luxury US golf tour with Geelong’s Steve Johnson.
“I go on a golf trip in the off-season every year and I’ve got a bucket list of what I think are the top 10 courses in the US,” he told the Financial Review, joking that “footy does get in the way of my golf!”
— Brendon Goddard (@BrendonGoddard9) July 23, 2014
Golf not your thing? What about creating opportunities to connect more with people you care about or volunteering some time for a worthy cause? You could enroll in a short course or the occasional class to learn something new (checkout Laneway Learning or try a MOOC such as edX). You’ll increase your wellbeing and at the same time set yourself up for a healthier, happier and more fulfilling future.
You can contact the AFL Players’ wellbeing team (Jo Mitchell or Jen Ashton) at firstname.lastname@example.org
Five Ways to Wellbeing campaign, UK: http://www.fivewaystowellbeing.org/
What is wellbeing? http://www.nationalaccountsofwellbeing.org/learn/what-is-well-being.html
AFL Players Induction Camp 2015 http://www.aflplayers.com.au/article/draft-class-of-2014-unites-for-induction-camp/