Mental health a priority for the ACA

10 May, 2016
This Monday 10th October marks World Mental Health Day, which has championed the cause of mental health awareness in the wider community since 1992.

Recently, the ACA and Cricket Australia, through the Professional Development Program (PDP), engaged the Resilience Project to ensure that state male and female players were best prepared for these challenges. The presentation was delivered and developed as a part of the PDP’s wellbeing curriculum, and was presented nationally to players, high performance staff and in some cases, player partners.

The facts regarding mental health are 'frightening', according to the program founder and presenter Hugh van Cuylenberg.

"The statistics are 1 in 4 adolescent boys are going through either depression or anxiety," van Cuylenberg said after presenting to the Victorian male side in July.

"Suicide rates are higher than ever before, and what we know is for elite sportspeople the rates of anxiety are even higher than the rest of the population.

The professional sporting landscape has begun to embrace these challenges more broadly over recent years, with the implementation of programs such as the Resilience Project.

Van Cuylenberg indicated that elite sporting environments, especially in cricket, can be tough places for people dealing with mental illness.

"Cricket can be a brutal game, particularly if you are not doing well. There is a lot of thinking time, which can be often quite dangerous.

"In cricket, if you miss out as a batsman, you're sitting there for a couple of days just thinking about how you missed out. It can be quite easy to get into some negative thought patterns."

The Resilience Project focuses on helping find practical strategies that can be used to ensure individuals are mentally healthy, and that they remain so.

The response to the program is what has pleased van Cuylenberg the most after successfully transferring what was originally a school based program into the elite sporting landscape.

He feels that when sportspeople have embraced the ideals presented, and it has overwhelmingly and positively impacted them on and off the field.

"I cannot believe what I have seen with the elite sports people I have worked with who have committed to this," van Cuylenberg said.

"What I am finding is that elite sportspeople understand that if you want to be good at something that you have to practice it and it's a discipline like anything else.

"The research around positive emotion is massive. Basically, when we feel happy, we have increased cognitive capacity so we are better able to think, better able to focus, so for a cricketer its huge."

Developing the member holistically has long been an objective of the ACA, which is why a mental health support service from Relationships Australia was made available to members.

Relationships Australia is accessed by over 90,000 people across Australia per year, and provides relationship support services to enhance human and family relationships. Since 2006, Relationships Australia have provided a number of counselling sessions for members to confidentially access at any stage of their cricket journey, particularly in their post-career.

While primarily a past player resource, current players can access Relationships Australia, can access assistance through their state Player Development Manager and the National Psychology Referral Network, and through the state and national sport psychologists.

National Professional Development Manager Ben Smith believes that ACA members are well looked after in the mental health space.

“The evolving professionalism of cricket means that male and female cricketers are playing more cricket than ever before and spending more time away from home and their primary support networks,” Smith said.

“The professional development program has developed a wellbeing curriculum that helps players understand the continuum of mental health and to develop strategies to maintain their personal wellbeing.

“The ACA and CA are working hard at creating a well-educated high performance environment that aims to destigmatize mental health and supports player wellbeing.”

Smith, via the PDP, helped instigate many of the programs members have access to, including the recent Resilience Project presentations.

“As part of the programs wellbeing framework the ACA and CA identified the need to support the ongoing understanding and development of resilience within the male and female playing group,” Smith said.

“The overwhelming feedback from the playing group, support staff and family that attended the sessions is that it has helped them put the game into perspective.”

For more information on the Resilience Project please click here.

© Australian Cricket Players Limited
Photos courtesy of Getty Images
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