The stereotype of a professional rugby league player is that of a tough guy who doesn’t talk about his feelings.
But a ‘cultural change’ in attitudes towards mental illness among players has resulted in club welfare managers working overtime to deal with an influx of stressed and depressed players.
It is estimated that a quarter of professional league players are vulnerable to mental illness, particularly those anxious about what to do once their career ends.
The Super League Player Welfare Study, conducted by the University of Huddersfield , also found varying levels of mental health training among welfare managers.
Hundreds of Super League players from 12 clubs responded to the study which took place over two years.
Since 2015, the game’s governing body, the RFL, has ensured that the top clubs each have a part-time player welfare manager.
But the study has concluded that welfare managers need to be employed full-time by the RFL.
Study leader Dr Kiara Lewis said welfare managers also needed a minimum standard of training and full backing from their club’s head coach.
Dr Lewis did, however, praise the RFL for its ‘proactive role’ in responding to mental health and issues arising after a player’s career ends.
She said: “As well as strength and conditioning by coaches and physiotherapists, supporting mental health is vital, and Rugby League recognises this.”
Former Giants centre, Paul Whatuira, suffered a mental breakdown during his career at Huddersfield.
Whatuira checked himself into hospital after hearing voices in his head telling him to kill his then wife and unborn child.
He was arrested after escaping from hospital and assaulting two men in Huddersfield, in October 2009.
Whatuira, who scored 26 tries for Giants in two years, retired from the club in 2010.
He struggled with drugs after his return to Australia but has since recovered.