Sport

Mental health support essential during tough times

By Tyler Maher

The current COVID-19 — or coronavirus — pandemic will have far-reaching consequences for the entire population.

Lives will be lost — and changed forever — jobs will go too and many grassroots sporting clubs will have to fight tooth and nail to come out the other side of the crisis with a positive outlook on their future.

All of this will have an impact on the collective mental health of the nation.

Outside The Locker Room — a not-for-profit organisation that provides critical mental health education and welfare support to community sporting clubs across Australia — recognises this, and is putting plans in place to help those affected combat it.

According to OTLR chief executive Jake Edwards, structure, routine and staying connected to your sporting community online are some of the key points to remember in the coming weeks and months.

“The biggest piece of advice I can give to people as individuals is to stick as close as they possibly can to a set routine and structure,” Edwards said.

“A lot of people will be working from home now, so try to set up your home office in a space away from the main areas of the house, but make sure you put in your diary space for some family or personal time as well.

“Whether that be a quick run in the morning or something else for yourself, it is important when it comes to people keeping their sanity and (nurturing) their mental health (during these uncertain times).”

Edwards — who tasted AFL action with Carlton — knows how important community sporting clubs are to those involved and hopes to help clubs fill the looming void.

“It's certainly going to have a short-term and a long-term impact on people's physical and mental health,” he said.

“It's an unusual environment that most of us find ourselves in now being indoors for almost all of the time, the loss of structure and routine that we need for good mental health is going to have a huge impact.

“The loss of community sport and those connections is going to be huge as well, but you've also got things like financial stress with so many job losses, so this is going to have a big impact for six to 12 months down the track.

“(It's big for) me included, I'm still playing local footy and the reason I'm still involved is the camaraderie, the boys, the banter, the laughs, the fun — the connectedness that we've lost now we have taken for granted a bit.

“We've got to start looking at some ways clubs can stay connected with their communities.”

OTLR has a strong presence in the Goulburn Valley region and beyond, but will be looking to give advice to all clubs in the country — not just those who have been involved with with the program in the past.

“We're really only a solid week into the restrictions imposed by the government,” Edwards said.

“The first thing that we did was contact some of our clubs to find out what their biggest concerns were so we could start working out a strategy from there.

“We'll make these strategies available online for any club around Australia so they can get some free support, not just those who have had sessions with us in the past.

“People can head to Outside The Locker Room's social media accounts for daily updates, and we're going to do a video series with a number of mental health professionals.”

Edwards said it was also important for clubs to keep their members informed throughout the coming weeks and months and encourage them to follow the government restrictions so we can all get through this together.

“Facebook pages or groups are a great one,” he said.

“We recommend that committee members or whoever is in charge of the pages give good, relevant info with the climate we're in, and encourage everyone to follow the rules that are in place to keep us safe.

“Mental health organisations are sharing some great things online and we will be doing that as well so everyone can try and connect virtually.

“Exercising is important as long as you're keeping to the regulations and working out by yourself or in your home.

“There's some great home workouts out there and fitness companies are making their apps available for free during this time.

“There's plenty of online resources that we encourage clubs to share to help their communities stay fit and stay connected.”

It is also a good time to become more aware of your mental health if you have not done so previously, with isolation providing plenty of time for self-reflection.

“Everyone now can certainly appreciate the importance of finding clarity and being aware of their mental health,” Edwards said.

“The biggest thing at the moment is the uncertainty, and that can have an impact on anxiety and stress levels. The sooner people are able to become aware of their mental health the sooner they can put in practice strategies to help themselves.

“Take stock, implement some mindfulness strategies and take time for reflection.”