Tackling mental health at grass roots

David Shillington (back) with Grafton mental health professionals and members of the South Grafton Rebels and the Grafton Ghosts.
David Shillington (back) with Grafton mental health professionals and members of the South Grafton Rebels and the Grafton Ghosts.

TWO years ago, a number of teenagers taking their own lives rocked the Grafton area, stirring members of the community into action.

One such member is Janita Cooper, who saw a chance to reach  some of Grafton’s youth through rugby league and the NRL State of Mind program.

Janita has been involved in Grafton rugby league most of her life.

Her husband played for 27 years with the Grafton Ghosts and she now has three children playing with the South Grafton Rebels, a club she has a lot to do with.

Janita was the first female president in Group 1.

Her involvement with rugby league and as the Grafton community leader of Headspace, a partner of the NRL State of Mind, and with help from Our Healthy Clarence, saw the program kick off.

“It all started two years ago with a number of teenage suicides,” Janita said. “I called a community meeting to see if we could prevent our youth from getting to the stage where they have decided to suicide.

“We are trying to reach our youth before they get into that position.

“Mental health issues can be very hard to understand.

“We are trying to educate the community around mental health, removing the stigma so people can get help when they need it.

“It was great to have some NRL State of Mind ambassadors from the Gold Coast Titans come and talk to the club,” she said.

The Titans State of Mind ambassador David Shillington has made Many trips to Grafton, helping the club complete the program.

NRL State of Mind, NRL Health’s community manager Jessica Macartney, believes the program is making a positive  difference.

“NRL State of Mind is a grassroots program across Australia and New Zealand,” Jessica said.

“We offered 10 positions for country rugby league clubs to join. One of our partners, Headspace, suggested there was interest from Grafton and we reached out to South Grafton to see if they wanted to be involved.

“They very much did.

“Part of the program is using past and present players as  ambassadors who advocate for mental health in the community.

“What we are really looking for is to empower and mobilise the club to really advocate for mental health and bring about a cultural change in their community and to be a bit of a hub for all things mental health and wellbeing related.

“We know they may be an A grade team of footballers, but they are also on job sites, also parents and brothers, or policemen, or teachers.”

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