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Sat 2 May 2020 | 12:20

Rugby's taboos: 'My mind's a treadmill’

Rugby's taboos: 'My mind's a treadmill’
Sat 2 May 2020 | 12:20
Rugby's taboos: 'My mind's a treadmill’

SPOTLIGHT: Mental health has always been an unspoken topic in rugby and amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic it can become a tragedy.

In February, My Players revealed that four in 10 South African professional rugby players have indicated that they suffer from one or more symptoms of common mental disorders.

The shocking statistic certainly shed light on rugby’s darkest area.

The Myplayers report also stated that most players deal with the mental health disorder in silence with the fear of being regarded as weak, emotional and even being dropped from the team.

*Also read: ‘Big problem in South African rugby’

For players not just in South Africa, it is extremely difficult to talk about their internal and emotional battles.

And current circumstances in terms of COVID-19 coronavirus just intensifies the feeling of isolation.

On man who has first-hand experience with these challenges is All Black legend John Kirwan.

The World Cup-winning wing broke one of sport’s great taboos after a stellar international career when he revealed his struggles with depression, helping explode the myth that on-field glory equates to happiness off the pitch.

“I had medical depression, I was on anti-depressants – I wanted to jump out of a window one night,” Kirwan told AFP in a telephone interview.

“I’ve got learned experience in this space.”

*Article continues below…

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Such is Kirwan’s passion for speaking out about mental health that when he was knighted in 2012 it was his pioneering advocacy, not his exploits in a black jersey, that earned him the award.

After writing two memoirs on the topic, Kirwan has in recent years devoted himself to a more hi-tech means of communication, a mobile phone app called Mentemia.

The word Mentemia – meaning “my mind” in Italian – was originally envisaged as a tool to help large corporations reduce stress in the workforce.

But as the coronavirus crisis deepened, Kirwan and his business partners became convinced it could play a positive role in helping New Zealanders cope during the pandemic.

Kirwan, now 55, said his personal situation had long since transformed “from surviving to thriving”, however a World Rugby Hall of Famer with 63 Test caps, said he was one of many keenly missing the absence of sport as a distraction during difficult times.

“I think it’s having an incredible impact. I love my rugby, I love my football – sport to me is part of my mental health, so I’m missing it hugely,” he said.

He said there was a widespread acknowledgement of the strains Covid-19 was placing on people and he hoped to provide the tools to help cope.

“I interviewed a lot of young men developing the app and they’d say ‘My mind’s a treadmill, can you stop it?'” he said.

“I said I can stop mine but you need to pick up the techniques yourself so you can do it yourself.”

Source: MyPlayers & AFP

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