Why your mind needs training too

Luke Keioskie
Wed 08 Aug

Minds need training too. That’s the message being issued by headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation with the launch of headcoach, a new national campaign to educate young men that maintaining their mental health is just as important as maintaining their physical health.

Tom Boyd knows this better than most. As a premiership champion with the AFL’s Western Bulldogs in 2016 his physical dominance was telling in a superb individual performance.

“We had an amazing year,” Tom said. “We managed to win the flag which was an incredible experience. But from my point of view I think it papered over a lot of the cracks that were starting to appear in my mental health.

“The real moment my mind started to turn was when I began having panic attacks while driving - that physiological effect of your heart racing, you’re sweating and you can’t concentrate, feeling dizzy.

“It’s hard for some people to understand. It’s not tangible, it’s not something you can see.”

In June 2017, at age 21, Tom announced he would take time away from the game to receive treatment for clinical depression and anxiety.

He was fortunate to have access to a team psychologist from whom he drew enormous support during his recovery and he now maintains his mental wellbeing much as he does his physical health.

“Some of the things that can be helpful for me during challenging times can be as simple as monitoring my breathing and getting ahead of moments of stress and anxiety,” he said.

“Now I can say to myself I’m not feeling great, let’s go and do something enjoyable, let’s take the dog for a walk or get the camera out or go surfing.

“It is so important to make time to look after your mental health. My mental health has hindered me more than any physical injury I've sustained in my life and I've had multiple surgeries. I really had no idea of some of the techniques you can use not only to help with mental health issues but also to prevent them.”

One in seven young men aged between 16 and 24 experience depression or anxiety each year yet a meagre 13 per cent seek help. Furthermore, suicide is the leading cause of death for young men in Australia.

Young men have a tough time recognising the importance of maintaining their mental health for a number of reasons including traditional gender role stereotypes, inability to identify early warning signs and a reluctance to let anyone know if they are struggling.

By bringing together some of the country’s most elite athletes to share tips and advice from their own experience, headcoach highlights the importance to young men of training their bodies and their minds.

“While young men commonly understand the importance of maintaining their physical health, they do not place the same emphasis on maintaining their mental health, and many simply don’t know where to start,” said headspace CEO Jason Trethowan.

“At headspace we are absolutely committed to ensuring all young men have the tools and confidence they need to be more proactive and open in managing their mental health and wellbeing. Simple tips like staying connected to others, building coping strategies, doing things you enjoy and sleeping well, can all play a vital role in building resilience.”

headcoach also harnesses the experiences of young men like Fergus Paterson. A member of headspace National Youth Reference Group, Fergus wants to encourage other young men to be proactive in supporting their mental health.

“When I was struggling with depression I found it difficult to find someone to reach out to. I had never been taught about mental illness and I felt like I was so alone and isolated from the rest of the world,” he said.

“I want to change that so people can feel safe enough to seek help, because once you start the conversation it gets easier.”

If you, or a young man you know is struggling they can seek support at headspace through face-to-face, online and telephone services.

Picture: aflplayers.com.au