by Sophie Volker
RUGBY LEAGUE: Former Australian player David Shillington visited Chinchilla on Saturday to help eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness in rugby league.
Shillington is an ambassador for the NRL State of Mind program, launched in partnership with Lifeline, Kids Helpline, headspace and The Black Dog Institute, which aims to tackle mental health issues in the sport.
The Chinchilla Rugby League Football Club held a fundraiser on Saturday in support of the program, which Shillington said can be a driver for social change.
"Sport in general is great for social cohesion and a sense of belonging and rugby league, with its popularity in Australia, can actually drive social change,” Shillington said.
"I really believe this program is doing that - it's getting the communities talking about mental health issues, which is the first step to solving mental health issues.
"We're raising awareness about the signs, symptoms and how to get help and just reducing the stigma around it through letting people know how common these issues are.”
Shillington, who has family members living in rural Queensland, said it was especially important to raise awareness of mental health in rural areas such as Chinchilla.
"Having family in different rural communities, I know that those lifestyles can sometimes feel isolated, employment situations can fluctuate and families might move from home, so it can sometimes mean a disconnect,” Shillington said.
"So with those things in mind, there's definitely going to be a need for more awareness around mental health.”
Chinchilla Rugby League Football Club president Lee Irwin said the fundraiser was a massive success.
"We had lots of people come out for the game and they stayed on through the night, which was really great,” Irwin said.
Irwin said the State of Mind program was something they were glad they could provide, to support everyone involved in the football club.
"It's an outlet for kids to come out here and know that they can talk about what's going on in their lives,” Irwin said.
"It's about getting the kidsto open up and givingthem the skills to cope with anxiety and depression.
"It really is like a big family here and to offer that support to our players and community is the main reason we did this.
"In the old days of rugby league, they just had to harden up and get on with it. We're trying to remove that stigma and really support this community.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, please phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.