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MENTAL HEALTH & WELLBEING

From grassroots footy fields around the country, Aussie Rules brings people together. Players, parents, coaches, umpires and volunteers all play their roles. Our community footy clubs around Australia are training grounds for teamwork, respect and fairness – win or lose.  

Aussie Rules footy is at its best when we all have each other’s backs – on and off the field. And that’s where Movember Ahead of the Game (AOTG) comes in.

By teaming up with Movember the AFL has the power to create real change to the wellbeing of all young people and communities across the Nation.

What is AOTG?

Ahead of the Game teaches players, parents, coaches, umpires and volunteers to understand mental health, build mental fitness, and strengthen resilience to deal with challenges in sport and life.

Why AOTG?

  • 75% of mental health disorders will have emerged before the age of 25.* That’s why conversations about mental health and fitness earlier in life are important.
  • Helping young people build the capability and skills to look after their own wellbeing, and support their mates when times are tough, is critical to lifelong mental resilience and mentally fit communities.
  • What sets AOTG apart from other youth mental health programs, is that it uses the power of sport to connect with young people.
  • AOTG builds communities that are mentally fit, have greater understanding of mental health and stronger resilience to deal with challenges in sport and life.

The Power of Sport

Why Footy? Because footy has the power to connect.

  • When young people play footy, they work together and support their teammates.
  • AOTG’s interactive workshops teaches players, parents, coaches, umpires and volunteers how to recognise mental health challenges, and identify what to do and when to get help.
  • Backed by experts, AOTG teaches teams how to be mentally fit, have greater understanding of mental health and stronger resilience to deal with challenges in sport and life

How do I sign my Club up to AOTG?

Sign up here!

Managing your own mental health is important at all stages of the mental health continuum.

Need help now? Call Lifeline 13 11 14 or text 0477 131 114 or Call Crisis Help 000 or Your Local Hospital Emergency Department.

Our mental health changes over time in response to different stressors and experiences. We can all move up and down the mental health continuum.

When should you reach out for help?

The earlier the better. When you are reacting or injured, start the process and know your options. If you are experiencing mental ill-health, reach out for professional help.

Download our How to Seek Help tool here.

Social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) is the foundation of physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It takes a holistic view of health.

SEWB recognises that:

  • connection to land, sea, culture and spirituality all influence wellbeing.
  • social, historical and political factors that contribute to racism also affect wellbeing.

Social and emotional wellbeing problems are distinct from mental health problems and mental illness

Even with good social and emotional wellbeing, people can experience mental illness and vice versa.

SEWB acknowledges cultural groups and individuals have their own, unique experiences of social and emotional wellbeing. Our How to Seek Help tool for Indigenous peoples provides culturally appropriate services for First Nations people.

Download our How to Seek Help for Indigenous here (coming soon).

Clubs play a role in being healthy places for their members and are an important part of mentally fit communities.

The AFL is committed to supporting football communities to become mentally fit and healthy places. Our Mentally fit Club Checklist list is a great place to start. 

To assist our football communities to become mentally fit and healthy places the AFL and Orygen have developed a rapid evidence guide to help clubs choose a safe and effective MH program.

  • This rapid evidence guide has been designed to help sporting teams and bodies make informed choices about the scientific evidence for programs that are designed to promote mental health or to respond to mental health symptoms.
  • The purpose of the guide is to highlight programs that can be used at the ‘whole of club/team’ or sport levels (rather than the individual athlete level) to lead to mental health benefits.

Download the Orygen and AFL Evidence Guide here.

Helpful Links - Find out more at Vic Health sporting club toolkit

A mentally fit club will be able to say that they…

  1. Promote mental and physical health equally
  2. Participate in mental health promotion campaigns
  3. Create a club environment that is safe and inclusive for all
  4. Have relationships with our local mental health providers such as headspace,
  5. Promote mental health literacy (Know the signs of mental ill-health, know how to respond and know where and how to connect to help)
  6. Have mental health first aid qualified officers
  7. Have critical incident and suicide postvention plans in place
  8. Help people recover from mental health challenges by making them welcome at the Club

Fostering a club environment that promotes positive mental health and wellbeing

Mental health is our psychological, social and emotional health, and affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we reach our potential, handle stress, relate to others, and contribute to our community.

The environments that we live, work and play in have a major influence on our mental health.

  • A positive environment that promotes mental health and wellbeing allows participants, coaches, families and supporters to feel safe, supported and included.
  • Moving away from a “win at all costs” mentality promotes an environment of participation, fun and teamwork and promotes wellbeing
  • Psychologically safe environments help people to feel like they belong, are accepted and they can be themselves.
  • Psychologically safe clubs mean players and volunteers can:
    • ask difficult questions,
    • ask for help,
    • raise issues or concerns,
    • admit errors,
    • openly share their struggles
  • Respect for others, acceptance of diversity and individual differences is part of a positive wellbeing culture.

Helpful Links

The AFL supports Play by the Rules and the collection of support resources and practical tools available for community sport CLICK HERE.

What works for Mental Health in Sporting Teams – an Evidence Guide for Best practice CLICK HERE.

Clubs can promote mental fitness alongside physical fitness

Mental fitness refers to the way we intentionally care for and grow our mental health. As with physical fitness, mental fitness skills must be practiced regularly over time for maintenance and gain. Footy is a great environment to practice mental fitness.

Mental Fitness involves building strength, flexibility and endurance in the five areas of the AFL Mental Fitness Model.

  1. Positive Emotion

It is so good to feel good

The ability to create experiences that create positive emotions is a powerful protective factor for our wellbeing.

  1. Engagement

The ability to find flow

‘Flow’ occurs when we are engaged in things we love doing, living in the present moment and entirely focused on the task at hand.

  1. Relationships

The power of human connection

Social support can be the most important building block of wellbeing for young people, as social relationships are often their top source of psychological health.

  1. Meaning

A purposeful existence

A personal sense that what we do is valuable and that our actions serve a greater purpose than ourselves results in a meaningful existence.

  1. Accomplishment

Competence and a sense of achievement

Experiencing accomplishment means that we have been able to work towards and achieve our goals, drawing on motivation to complete what we set out to do.

Helpful Links

Click the link to access the Bite Back Mental Fitness Challenge, a great example of how to build and promote mental fitness in young people.

Reducing risks to mental health means Safeguarding Children and having a zero tolerance towards stigma, bullying, racism, harassment and discrimination.

Clubs can make a difference to the mental health of their members by committing to creating an inclusive and positive culture which has zero tolerance towards risks to mental health such as abuse, stigma, bullying, e-safety threats, racism, harassment and discrimination.

Check out the following sections of the ClubHelp website to access key AFL policy and industry best practice that contributes to mentally healthy football club environments.

Policies
Good Sports
Safeguarding Children
Inclusion
Gender Diversity

An important part of being a mentally fit and capable club includes actively reducing stigma about mental ill-health.

Reducing stigma is important because it reduces barriers to getting help.

  • Safely talking about mental health challenges and modelling good help seeking can contribute to an environment where people ask for help early.
  • Language is important in reducing stigma.

Educating members about common signs of mental health challenges and how to get help can promote mental health literacy among your members.

  • Mental Health Literacy is a strategy that promotes knowledge and beliefs about mental ill-health, which assists in the recognition, management or prevention of mental health challenges.
  • Mental health literacy programs and online resources are widely available and are an important part of being a mentally fit club.

Mental Health First Aid

  • The AFL supports Mental Health First Aid Australia and the certified providers of MHFA Training. MHFA also has guides about how to respond to someone experiencing a mental health challenge so you can help them seek professional support.
  • Find out more about MHFA Australia.  

If you are unsure about how to communicate respectfully about mental ill-health, the AFL and headspace have developed a Safe storytelling Guide to help – see the section to follow.

Helpful Links

Headspace have developed a Safe Storytelling guide with the AFL to help the football industry communicate sensitively about mental health

Safe storytelling is an approach to communicating about mental health that prioritises:

  • Safety of the person sharing their story
  • Safety of people hearing their story
  • Reducing stigma about mental health

This guide is for media professionals in AFL football clubs, communication teams, state league football administrators and anyone working with or supporting players who would like to share the story of their mental health journey and recovery.

Access the Safe Storytelling guide here.

The Critical Incident Response Guide aims to assist clubs manage exposure to a critical incident.

Check out this page on ClubHelp for more information should you be faced with having to deal with a Critical Incident.

In communities that have been impacted by suicide, football clubs are often part of the community response.

This resource aims to help Clubs and Club Leaders provide guidance, support to their members, and minimise the risks of suicide exposure.

  • Suicide is a complex public health issue, and there is no one reason why someone may attempt suicide.
  • This resource aims to help Clubs and Club leaders provide guidance and support to their members and minimise the risks of suicide exposure in the Club community.
  • The Guide outlines clear and practical steps in responding to a suicide or suicide attempt
  • The Guide includes response plans, checklists, and examples of communication and support resources

Download the Guide here.