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    CHECKMATE: Wimmera Football Netball League chairman Peter ‘Billy’ Ballagh and Horsham District Football Netball League representative Jayde Ellis promote the mental health rounds involving clubs and umpires. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

Football leagues' inaugural mental-health round

By Bronwyn Hastings

The Wimmera and Horsham District football netball leagues will launch an inaugural mental health round on July 27.

The leagues will partner with AFL mental health program Tackle Your Feelings, which is based on education delivered to the AFL industry, and led by high-profile player and coach ambassadors to deliver the mental health initiative.

Wimmera and Horsham District leagues operations manager Jennie French said football netball clubs could book in-house mental health sessions.

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“The sessions run for 60 to 90 minutes and work through a booklet with a local mental health advocate,” she said.

“They will talk about a number of key things to look out for, such as triggers, and introduce a couple of people from mental health fields in our region, to show everyone that these are everyday people they can go and see for help anytime.”

So far, two Horsham District league clubs, Laharum and Edenhope-
Apsley, two Wimmera league clubs, Warracknabeal and Nhill, and an umpires group, have signed up for the program.

“Next year there will be another five clubs,” Ms French said.

“By having five clubs, our region will get $5500 funding to go into mental health, along with any other money raised during the mental-health round.

“It hasn’t been determined yet how that will be spent, there are a number of options – mental health first aid training for clubs, or to some of our mental health providers locally, or support programs for clubs that have lost someone.”

Wimmera Football Netball League chairman Peter ‘Billy’ Ballagh said the initiative’s catchphrase tied in with the mental-health round’s promotional shoelaces, also a local initiative, encouraging people to check in with a mate, or to check their own mental health.

“The catch cry is ‘checkmate’ – all grades of senior footballers, netballers and their coaches will wear the checkered shoelaces on the day,” he said.

“We do encourage clubs to wear them as long as they can, at training or anywhere, so when you’re doing up your laces, you’re looking at the checkered pattern and thinking about the importance of mental health.

“I’m pretty sure all of us have experienced the worst-case scenario when someone isn’t travelling well, so I think it’s fairly crucial that we push this as hard as we can.”

Tackle Your Feelings has been introduced following moves from both leagues and some of the initiative’s sponsors after seeing an unfortunate need in the community.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australians aged 15 to 44.

“In the past couple of years, there have been three or four clubs unfortunately affected by suicide,” Ms French said.

“Both leagues were thinking about it and a couple of sponsors were thinking about it, which has become a working party of the two leagues, with Brendan O’Loughlin, Gavin Morrow and Nathan Henry also being key drivers and sitting on the working group.

“We have a number of key stakeholders to come on board to sponsor these shoelaces for players and coaches, but there will be some other ones available for people to purchase during the day at the mental-health round, and there will be some shaker tins around and things like that for fundraising.”

Tackle Your Feelings is a free mental health program formed by the AFL Coaches Association, AFL Players Association and Zurich Insurance in 2018. 

It aims to help participants gain the tools to understand, recognise and respond to signs of mental ill health in themselves and each other.

“Clubs are vital places where people go, not just to play sport, but to socialise,” Ms French said.

“Particularly for farmers and the like who are isolated during the week, that’s their one time to check in and feel they belong.”

Since its formation, the Tackle Your Feelings program has been delivered to more than 10,000 participants across Australia. 

Last year, it was delivered to more than 3000 participants from 180 clubs.

For more information or to take a mental health test, visit www.tackle

• If you, or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, 13YARN on 13 92 76, Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. In an emergency, phone Triple Zero.

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