Mental health in rugby being tackled

Mental health must become part of rugby programmes across the Pacific Islands, a former All Black sevens player and mental health advocate says.

Jason Tiatia believes such programmes need to be factored into rugby programmes from the grassroots up to international level.

A panellist at the New Zealand Rugby Union head office in Wellington to launch the 'Mind. Set. Engage' mental health programme on May 22, Tiatia told stakeholders this is a critical programme for all Pasifika players and management.

Formerly known as HeadFirst, the renamed Mind. Set. Engage. supports players, coaches, rugby staff, volunteers and whānau to improve their own mental wellbeing and provide tools to help others.

Established in 2017, the programme operates across New Zealand and has had significant success supporting a cultural shift in the rugby community with more people seeking and receiving help.

New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) and Te Aka Whai Ora (Māori Health Authority) say the partnership aims to improve mental health and wellbeing outcomes in New Zealand communities through rugby.

Tiatia believes the Pasifika mentally of keeping quite and 'everything is ok' is a problem and that needs to be replaced by the openness and confidence to communicate and share issues.

"But the biggest one is communication for our men, particularly our dads and young men. It's okay to express some of these things and share the stories that go with it," Tiatia said.

"We can't stay in our cars and garages. We need to actually come out and share some of our love as well with everyone else. To be open and just be themselves.

"It's okay to not be just a regular player, you need to be other things in our rugby community."

The NZRU-Te Aka Whai Ora programme is being rolled out in in five regions in New Zealand - Counties-Manukau, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Canterbury and Southland.