Eight male athletes from seven sports have been selected to raise awareness of mental health issues.
A total of 21 athletes were selected as Lifeline Community Custodians, a new program in partnership with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).
Their role is to reduce the stigma around mental illness, share their own personal stories and encourage people to reach out when they need it.
In 2017, 3128 Australians died from intentional self-harm, among males the rate was three times greater than that for females.
One of the Lifeline Community Custodians is Sydney Surfer Cooper Chapman, who told the ABC that suicide prevention had become his mission in life.
"It's such a silent killer in a country we all love," Chapman, 24, said.
"My little sister lost two friends to suicide when she was in Year 12 last year and I was like, 'why is this happening? We need to do something about this'."
"I also lost an uncle to suicide when I was about eight," Chapman said.
"My dad suffered from depression but he went and sought help and he's been a real inspiration to me to share these stories to help others."
Chapman started The Good Human Factory to spread positive messages about mental health and remind people that it’s good to talk.
He speaks at local schools and other venues along Sydney’s Northern beaches, which has an extremely high rate of suicide (30 in 2018).
Chapman was thinking of training as a Lifeline volunteer when he was approached to join the AIS program.
"I think as athletes we have a responsibility to share our stories and show that it's not all perfect … suicide and depression have been close to my heart forever and I've got this burning desire to act on it."
Olympic racewalker Dane Bird-Smith said his depression reached a critical point in 2017.
“I’d been fighting this internal battle alone, in my own head, but that moment scared me enough to confide in my wife Katy,” he recounts. “It was a turning point and it has changed by life for the better. I made a decision I was going to be happy again.
“I want people to know that balance is so important in any walk of life and there is help. Elite athletes can put so much time and focus into peak performance that often we lose track of everything else going on around us.”
Paralympic rower and five-time world champion Erik Rorrie was made a ward of the state at the age of seven as a result of domestic violence and abuse. He ended up in a wheelchair at the age of 21 – the same year his partner became pregnant. He found an outlet in sport.
“I know it takes more of a person to ask for help than someone who puts up a wall and says ‘I’ve got no issues,” he says.
The full male athletes joining the Lifeline Community Custodian initiative are:
- Cooper Chapman (Surfing Australia, Sydney)
- Dane Bird-Smith (Athletics Australia, Queensland Academy of Sport, Brisbane)
- Declan Stacey (Diving Australia, NSW Institute of Sport, Sydney)
- Erik Horrie (Rowing Australia, NSW Institute of Sport, Sydney)
- Gordon Allan (Cycling Australia, NSW Institute of Sport, Sydney)
- Ken Wallace (Paddle Australia, Gold Coast)
- Michael Tone (Gymnastics Australia, Brisbane)
- Scott Reardon (Athletics Australia, Canberra)
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