Former NRL players Preston Campbell and Clinton Toopi have presented the State of Mind program in remote Western Australia for the first time to combat the stigma around mental health.
Campbell and Toopi travelled to grassroots rugby league clubs, schools and Indigenous communities on a landmark seven-day trip of the Pilbara, Karratha, and Broome regions to educate about depression, anxiety and cyber safety.
Suicide rates in rural areas are significantly higher than the national average and it is the leading cause of death for Western Australians aged between 15 and 44.
"There's a lot of remote communities there [in Western Australia] and there are lots of social issues layered against that as well," NRL community manager Neesha Eckersley told NRL.com.
Campbell said the program was welcomed by participants.
"They were really receptive to it and we had some really good conversations. I think it was something they feel they needed," he said.
"With the State of Mind program, you don't know you need it until you're exposed to that sort of stuff sometimes.
"I think for a lot of them, they really appreciated the presentation."
Eckersley agreed and praised the participants for engaging in the sessions.
"They were really open with their experiences or where they've supported somebody else," she said.
"Often they disclose experiences that have happened in the community where someone has taken their own life, or they or other people have experienced mental ill-health."
The innaugral State of Mind Nines tournament held in Karratha was launched midway through the trip and Campbell described the event as the "standout" of his experience.
Under 12s, 14s and senior men's and women's teams took part, with mental health messages incorporated into the competition.
"They don't get to play much football over there, and [it was great] seeing them have a lot of fun, in particular the young ones with a smile on their faces," Campbell said.
"Rugby league is just trying to play its part. It's a role we all can play in the form of conversations about mental health."
Eckersley said the opportunity to play footy bonded people, with some clubs embarking on long travel journeys in order to be involved.
"You had Broome Jets, for example, travelling eight hours to come down for that weekend," she said.
"Those are the kind of distances people travel for rugby league and community. It was a full family day.
"At the beginning of the games, we'd all come in a circle as a symbol of unity and connection.
"Hopefully the State of Mind Nines becomes an annual event that brings those clubs together."
Campbell believes help-seeking behaviours were formed and great strides taken to eradicate negative connotations surrounding mental health.
"When we talk about mental health, I think a few of us get a bit scared off when we use that term. So to have the NRL on board to drum up conversations, it makes it easier," Campbell said.
Eckersley stressed State of Mind's ongoing commitment to rural Western Australia and the country as a whole.
"We understand that every time we talk about this, we have the potential to save a life," she said.