Collingwood forward Alex Fasolo’s announcement that he will be taking time off to deal with depression is a positive trend in sport players going public about their mental health struggles, says a sports psychologist.
- There are hopes players speaking out will have a flow-on effect throughout the community
- Wayne Schwass says kids need to be taught how to deal with stress off the field
- Call for clubs to build up their welfare teams and have more counselling available
David Barracosa, performance psychologist who works privately with AFL players, said it allowed for mental health to not remain a “hidden thing, a taboo.”
“It’s acknowledging this is part of society, and these players first and foremost are human and they are like everyone else,” he said.
Mr Barracosa said the growing number of high-profile cases started an important conversation.
“I think it opened up people’s ability to converse about it and gave them the chance to seek help if it was something they were going through,” he said.
“Because I think for a long time it was something people tried to push away and push through it, rather than seeking help through the correct avenues.”
The Collingwood Football Club said it expected Fasolo would continue training, and that his return to football would happen sooner rather than later.
Mr Barracosa said training was important for Fasolo’s wellbeing.
“Keeping him involved with the club is such an important step, because there is a lot of support in the club,” he said.
“There are obviously team-mates, coaches, the support staff, so he’s able to keep those relationships going — which would be quite meaningful.”
Mr Barracosa said it was satisfying to see players refusing to battle mental demons on the field, and to see many stopping like they would if they had a physical injury.
Fasolo was not the first player to step aside from football because of mental health issues.
Last week, Giants ruckman Tom Downie announced his retirement, admitting he had been dealing with anxiety for some time.
The Greater Western Sydney player conceded he had lost his passion for the game and that made it difficult to give his all as a professional athlete.
In 2015, Sydney Swans star Lance Franklin also took time off to manage his mental illness.
Hopes for ‘flow-on effects’ to community
Melbourne footballer Jordan Lewis told Fox Footy’s AFL 360 program that the football world was taking mental health more seriously.
“Players now feel okay to come out, and put [their] hand up [and say] ‘I’ve got some issues that I need to deal with and step away from the game’,” he said.
“And not one player at Collingwood would look at him differently.”
Psychology lecturer Brad Wright, from La Trobe University, said he hoped players speaking out would have flow-on effects throughout the community.
“The stigma around depression is slowly breaking down,” he said.
“It’s taking a long time and when role-models start to step forward and say they are also at risk and also vulnerable, it increases the likelihood that other Australians, in particular men will also seek help.
“Because we know that men are generally less likely to seek help when they are depressed.”
‘We need to teach kids to deal with stress off the field’
Former footballer and mental health advocate Wayne Schwass told SEN Radio there was too much emphasis on the physicality of players.
“We educate kids to cope with stress on the footy field, put 100,000 people at the MCG and an opponent who wants to beat you physically and on a scoreboard,” he said.
“We teach the kids how to cope with that stress.
“The question I have is as a code and as club and an industry, are we teaching kids the skills to cope with stress off the field?
“And that’s a question I’m not sure we have the right answers for at the moment.”
Mr Schwass said he would like to see clubs build up their welfare teams and have more counselling available.
“When you look at an AFL club, and I’m not going to name any club, but I think this is broadly the same at most clubs, when you look at AFL clubs you’ve got a big medical team, you’ve got a big fitness and strengthening team,” he said.
“That might be anywhere from 8 to 14, to 15 people involved in that — and rightly so.
“We might have one part-time or full-time psychologist at a football club that may be available two or three days a week — for me there is an imbalance there.”