Suicide. It's the biggest killer of Australian youth aged between 15 to 24, but a community-driven organisation's commitment to end that devastating statistic is getting ‘ahead of the game’ when it comes to building mental health literacy and resilience in young athletes.
Youth suicide intervention and prevention organisation ALIVE has partnered with men’s health charity Movember to roll-out an online pilot of ‘Movember Ahead of the Game' – an evidence-based program using sport to teach athletes, parents and coaches how to talk about mental health.
Working with Queensland Rugby League since 2016, ALIVE will be the delivery partner educating more than 25 rugby league clubs, thanks to the support of Movember.
Their recent grassroots delivery of this new initiative has given a helping hand to many, especially those in South Burnett.
"There has been a significant impact on the society in the South Burnett over the last five to ten years, mainly due to the challenging rural industry, natural disasters such as the crippling drought and local flooding, and an increased pressure on youth which is sometimes misjudged by adults," South Burnett representative coordinator Scott Prendergast said.
"All of these factors have led to an increase in mental health and suicide rates.
"Every suicide in the community is tragic, but it's been even more devastating for South Burnett Rugby League who has been directly affected by the issue plaguing our community."
The increased focus of improving the region's mental health literacy began after a devastating accident that impacted the entire community.
"In 2018, Murgon lost their under 14 coach [Andrew Cole] in a tragic car crash whilst on his way to coach a game," Prendergast said.
"The effect of his loss really highlighted how much it impacted our youth and as a result, we reached out to the QRL for wellbeing assistance."
In an effort to continue tackling the insidious issue, the League and all of its clubs became State of Mind recognised by the NRL last year and have just completed the program offered by ALIVE.
"Unfortunately, the issue hasn't gone away as we've had four youth suicides in the last 12 months, so when the opportunity came along for our clubs to be delivered the Movember Ahead of the Game program, we jumped at the opportunity," Prendergast added.
The initiative uses sports-based resilience training to teach athletes, parents and coaches how spot the signs of poor mental health, how to talk about mental health and fitness openly and how and when to seek help.
ALIVE founder and CEO Tamsyn Rosenberg said she was proud to support all South Burnett clubs in their efforts to build mental health literacy among their youth.
"We are so proud to partner with Movember to be able to bring these life-saving and resilience building skill sets to our communities that are most deeply affected by mental health issues, which leave existing supports exhausted," Rosenberg said.
"It has been a great opportunity for the South Burnett region and also Slacks Creek to help turn the tides of this crisis, and to receive the support that they have been asking for so long.
"This is just the beginning, and we look forward to working together to help the young people who need it most, thrive."
The backing from men’s health charity Movember - which started in Australia but has now grown to more than 20 countries around the world, has also allowed the program to be delivered to all 14 Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup teams.
"It has been an incredibly tough season on the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup teams, with restrictions resulting in the cancellation of the entire competition after only one round," Rosenberg said.
"These players put so much into their training and their commitment to the game is inspirational.
"We are so grateful that the funded programs have been extended to include the support and player development of these teams this season.
"This will help them foster the best possible mindset, during these challenges, so they can learn from them and get set for the best kind of return to play."
Owen Brigstock-Barron, Movember program lead - mental health and suicide prevention, said he was excited to be working with Queensland's number one sport.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to be working with the dedicated and knowledgeable experts at ALIVE to bring Movember Ahead of the Game to Queensland’s rugby league community," Brigstock-Barron said.
“The past few months have been really tough on everyone, which is why programs like Movember Ahead of the Game are so important, particularly in creating a supportive environment that improves understanding of mental health problems amongst young athletes.”