Rugby League - Mental health back in spotlight

Sean Long's startling revelation that he contemplated suicide earlier this year has once more brought into sharp focus the subject of mental health issues among sportsmen.

PA Sport
Rugby League - Mental health back in spotlight

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Sean Long - suffered from depression

The 37-year-old former St Helens and Great Britain scrum-half told the Sunday People that he was sectioned after taking an overdose in January and was released by doctors only when his mother and brother agreed to care for him.

Another Super League scrum-half, former Hull player Brett Seymour - who is now looking to resurrect his career with Castleford - has also spoken about his suicide attempt after falling into deep depression.

The predicament of Long and Seymour brings back painful and tragic memories of the loss of former Wigan and Great Britain hooker Terry Newton, who took his own life in September 2010 after struggling to come to terms with a two-year drugs ban.

That led to the formation of the State of Mind organisation, and one of its founders, Ernie Benbow, has welcomed the honesty and bravery shown by Long.

"Obviously to have such a high-profile player talk about his own demons helps the cause," said Benbow, who is also chief executive of the Super League players' association 1eagu3.

Benbow, who spends much of his time raising the issue of mental health awareness among academy players, is hoping to secure charitable status for State of Mind, which will receive increased publicity later in the year when round 25 of Super League is dedicated to its worthy cause.

Seymour, who just over 12 months ago crashed his car after taking a combination of alcohol and sleeping pills, sought help from the Sporting Chance clinic set up by former Arsenal footballer Tony Adams and still keeps in touch with them.

"They have been outstanding - I wouldn't be here but for them," Seymour said at Castleford's pre-season media day.

"I usually catch up once a week to have a coffee or a chat. It is a sounding board for life and generally how thin gs are."

Another former St Helens and Great Britain scrum-half, Bobbie Goulding, has also praised Sporting Chance after it helped him get his life back together following a battle with depression and a near-fatal car crash.

Both Long and Seymour have spoken passionately about the difficulties facing rugby players when it comes to broaching such a sensitive subject.

"I could have done a lot of things differently - talking to people would have been one," said Seymour, who was recently the subject of a BBC documentary on mental health.

"I went into my shell, which was the worst thing I could have done. When things happen like they did, it's not something to deal with on your own. It's about sounding out some help and the League have taken some big steps.

"I know a few other guys have come out since my deal happened and looked for help which is really good. Just ask the right people at the club if you are struggling with whatever.

"If there is something on your mind, get help and talk about it. I wouldn't have ended up with the problem I had if I had sounded out some help.

"It's about being courageous. It's a pretty big step to ask for help, being in such a macho game we play."

Sue Baker, who is director of the Time to Change campaign set up to end the discrimination faced by people with mental health problems, said: "People are often silenced by the stigma surrounding mental health.

"You need to know that someone is going to be on your side when you do speak up. So it's great to hear that Brett has had such fantastic support from other sportsmen and from his club.

"This shows that it doesn't mean the end of a sporting career because of a mental health problem as long as that person has the right support around them."

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