Former NRL player Dayne Weston champions vulnerability for men’s mental health
Former Melbourne Storm rugby player Dayne Weston says NRL's health and well-being culture could go a lot further towards de-stigmatising men’s mental health and encourage blokes to open up about their struggles as freely as they would discuss a physical injury.
While praising Rugby League clubs for employing more health and wellbeing staff, he tells Simon Rinne, host of the Mindful Men podcast, that a lot more needed to be done for men to feel safe about opening up, and for vulnerability to become a regular practice in their lives.
“The only way through anything is through vulnerability,” he says. “We need to become comfortable with being vulnerable. People don’t share because they think it will be used against them. It stems from shame.”
Dayne has developed a huge passion for improving mental health in the community, following his own intense struggles as a teenager developing his skill in rugby while also processing the conflict between his parents and their subsequent divorce.
He left home at 15 to live with older players during his first stint with Penrith Panthers in 2011, and off the field grappled with intense feelings of anxiety and depression.
“If I did well I felt ok, if I didn’t I felt alone,” says the father of three. Dayne was happy and motivated at training, but felt miserable and irritable at home, all of which led to his marriage breakdown.
“I went through the next six years wearing a mask, putting on a brave face. I felt embarrassed that I was married, had two beautiful kids, I bought a house, I was playing NRL. Mental health does not discriminate.”
Despite competing in the UK Super League for two years and picking up multiple awards, nothing could make Dayne feel happy and suicide “was on the forefront of my mind every morning.”
Unable to repair his first marriage, and losing himself in drugs and partying, Dayne eventually found a therapist who he connected with, however it took him at least four counsellors before finding the right one.
He has since remarried and established a regular men’s group called Men of Gold, something he was inspired to set up after being exposed to men’s circles during his time with Melbourne Storm and its wellbeing officer, Peter Robinson.
“I could see the power of men opening up and sharing what is going on,” he says.
“I wanted to start a men’s group, so men could be themselves and start sharing how they were feeling. I wanted to create a culture where men feel safe and can be with themselves.
“The only way we can get better is to share our lived experience.”
Dayne now feels it is important that athletes are open about needing mental health days, and that this be given the same level of acceptance as taking time off for a physical injury.
“It’s in the news … 7 men today will take their life, 2500 plus a year," says Dayne.
“No one talks about it. Everyone’s still on eggshells around it because it’s confronting.
“R U OK? Day is a great initiative but what about the rest of the year? We highlight mental health for one day and then we shut up about it.”
While Men of Gold meets in a space owned by his local church, Dayne says there is no hidden agenda to convert participants to Christianity. “A lot of people have pushed back because of the church, but it’s so far from the truth. It’s in a café, not even in a cathedral. Men have been hurt by churches, I have to take that into consideration."
Dayne says he could not have built the group without having a team around him. “If I didn’t have a team I couldn’t do things by myself.” As Men of Gold expands to include other social events, Dayne is hoping he gets enough sponsorship support to build a website and start his own podcast.
For more information about Men of Gold contact Dayne on: https://www.instagram.com/menofgoldau/