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Former North Melbourne champion Wayne Schwass calls for mental health round

Former North Melbourne champion Wayne Schwass has called on the AFL to make the issue of mental health an immediate priority with the introduction of a themed round to the AFL fixture.

Schwass, 45, who battled depression during his 15-year, 282-game league career with North Melbourne and Sydney, has worked extensively in the area of mental health since he went public about his struggle in 2006.

He said on Monday that he had been moved to speak out again to help raise public consciousness after the death last weekend of TV personality Charlotte Dawson. And he said the AFL could help play a leading role in the fight to prevent suicide.

Wayne Schwass.

Wayne Schwass. Photo: Getty Images

"I just think there's a need there and a real opportunity as the No.1 sporting body in Australia for us to actually put mental health on the agenda," Schwass said. "Not only within our code, given some of the pressures associated with playing and coaching and administering a hugely popular sport, but to show the Australian population that we're doing something to recognise the impact mental illness has on people not only following our game, but right around the country.

"The AFL does a great job in educating people through a number of great and worthy dedicated rounds, but for some reason, to this point we still don't have a dedicated mental health round. I think there's a massive opportunity for the game to tackle the issue in a positive sense."

Schwass said it was tragic that it took events like Dawson's death to bring issues such as depression to the forefront of public consciousness. "I didn't know Charlotte, but it's terribly sad that someone feels that's the only choice they have left. And, to put it into context, we lose more people to suicide than we do on the roads. We have this graphic and confronting road safety campaign, for which governments deserve to be applauded, but it beggars belief in my view that we don't direct as much attention to an issue that is taking far too many people. At some stage, somewhere along the line, it's going to take [sporting] codes and industry leaders and politicians to understand that this is a very real issue.''

Some mental health professionals and experts believe the AFL has been slow to endorse such campaigning, while embracing other worthwhile causes. One source said the league had been approached to get behind such an initiative as long as seven years ago.

"I've spoken to a couple of people within the AFL about it," Schwass said. "I respect the fact they're getting approached almost daily by organisations or people wanting them to do things, and in fairness to them, I think they've done an outstanding job in a number of areas such as breast cancer awareness. But I think this is the most important social issue facing the broader community. And for such a well-supported sporting body, the time is now.

"We've got 800 players, a significant amount of coaches and administrators, and members of our own code and our own supporters are grappling with this today. I think it would be really powerful if we embraced this opportunity to send a strong message that we understand it's something that is having a big impact."

Schwass set up the Sunrise Foundation, a high school preventative education program which he said had reached 5000 students by the end of last year, and had identified and responded to "a significant number" of children with mental health issues who had previously not received support.

The foundation has since wound up, but Schwass continues to be a vocal and visible profile for the public discussion of depression and mental health, and against the stigmatisation of those affected.

For help or information visit beyond blue.org.au, call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251 or Lifeline on 131 114.

14 comments so far

  • Please stop this...................the AFL is entertainment / sport. It is not the AFL job to be social engineers for every cause, It is running to many of these days already without a mental Health round , i,e Women round, indigenous round, stick to the footy............there is alot of work to do in this area with the drop off in participation rate in local level

    Commenter
    Bugme
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    February 25, 2014, 10:08AM
    • The AFL is also part of the wider community too. I see no reason why it shouldn't sponsor a Women's round, an indigenous round, and a mental health round. Presumably your view would hold that it should butt out of the ANZAC round too, which is of course one of the biggest drawers of the season.

      Commenter
      daveinbalmain
      Location
      balmain
      Date and time
      February 25, 2014, 11:47AM
    • Are you OK Bugme?

      Commenter
      Peter
      Location
      Fremantle
      Date and time
      February 25, 2014, 1:03PM
    • +10, If the AFL is serious about Mental health they would stop taking revenue from gambling and that will happen when pigs fly.

      Commenter
      G
      Date and time
      February 25, 2014, 1:58PM
    • I assume you live a lucky life. Had no friends or family ill with Depression or suicide. You can keep your head in the sand however, times are changing. Once people were to ashamed to open up and talk. The more people are able to talk without stigma the better. The only way the likes of you could understand is experience the effects of mental illness. Pleased you live such a sheltered good life you can be so non caring

      Commenter
      Some care
      Date and time
      February 25, 2014, 5:21PM
  • Bravo!
    Bugme,, you obviously are just too young to understand or haven't popped you head outside and seen what is going on, particularly with today's adolescents, an especially risky period for mental health problems.
    It may not be tomorrow but sooner or later the mental health issue affects everybody....and after all footy is just a game, but just happens to be one of the biggest mediums of communication we have.

    Commenter
    Mach
    Location
    Perth
    Date and time
    February 25, 2014, 11:38AM
    • I support the cause but I just don't understand why the involvement of a sporting league is required or even desired. What can they really do? Play one round where everyone wears a little logo? Get the ground announcer and commentators to tell the crowds to treat mental illness like a physical illness?

      I think they should have ONE special round a year. You can choose if it is indigenous, women's... whatever.

      Commenter
      mike
      Date and time
      February 25, 2014, 11:40AM
      • The footy clubs just need more counsellors involved with their teams. So do the tv networks.

        Commenter
        Do
        Location
        Perth
        Date and time
        February 25, 2014, 11:41AM
        • Please don't....and don't take any notice of the first Comment as I am sick of hearing from people who could give a fig about anybody else!

          Mental Health Round would be a great idea...there are people out their with Depressive illnesses, they didn't ask for them, they just got them. They don't know how to deal with them because if can be all consuming.....

          Why should we empathise with people who have these "Mental Health" issues? Because one day...it could be you!!! The illness itself can be hard to deal with and these people need our help and assistance to lead a normal life. They are only a "little broken" and we should help them to get better.....NOT just ignore them like some people have [Yeah Commenter Number One...You know who I'm talking about!]

          Commenter
          General Soreness
          Date and time
          February 25, 2014, 1:01PM
          • A fantastic idea...is it too late to run one this season?

            Commenter
            melbourne Town
            Date and time
            February 25, 2014, 1:19PM

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            AFL 2015

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            MEL 115 vs GCF 89 13:40MCG
            SYD 72 vs ESS 60 16:35ANZ
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            STK 78 vs GWS 87 13:10ES
            ADE 140 vs NTH 63 15:20Adelaide Oval
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            RIC 66 vs WBU 85 13:45MCG
            GWS 101 vs MEL 56 14:10SO
            COL 63 vs ADE 90 16:35ES
            GCF 76 vs STK 104 19:20MS
            PTA 44 vs SYD 92 19:40Adelaide Oval
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            ESS 78 vs HAW 76 15:20MCG
            NTH 133 vs BRI 51 16:40ES
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            Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
            COL 140 vs STK 66 19:50MCG
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            CAR 84 vs ESS 105 13:45MCG
            ADE 80 vs MEL 55 14:10Adelaide Oval
            SYD 111 vs GWS 90 16:35SCG
            NTH 105 vs PTA 113 19:20ES
            BRI 58 vs RIC 137 19:20G
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            WCE 81 vs FRE 111 16:40Domain Stadium
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            STK vs CAR 11:10NZ
            ESS vs COL 14:40MCG
            GWS vs GCF 17:40SO
            PTA vs HAW 19:40Adelaide Oval
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            Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
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            GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
            NTH vs HAW 19:20ES
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            Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
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            GCF vs COL 16:35MS
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            HAW vs GCF 13:45AS
            MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
            WBU vs GWS 16:35ES
            RIC vs ESS 19:20MCG
            ADE vs FRE 19:40Adelaide Oval
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            COL vs NTH 15:20MCG
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            ESS vs GEE 19:20ES
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            NTH vs WCE 15:20BA
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            Thu, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
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            Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
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            BRI vs ADE 16:35G
            STK vs WBU 19:20ES
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            Thu, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
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            RIC vs GWS 13:40MCG
            GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
            WBU vs CAR 19:20ES
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            ADE vs GEE 15:20Adelaide Oval
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            Thu, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
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            GCF vs GWS 14:10MS
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            PTA vs ADE 15:20Adelaide Oval
            STK vs RIC 16:40ES
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            Round 17
            Fri, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
            CAR vs HAW 19:50ES
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            ADE vs GCF 14:10Adelaide Oval
            RIC vs FRE 16:35MCG
            ESS vs PTA 19:20ES
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            MEL vs STK 15:20MCG
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            Round 18
            Fri, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
            HAW vs RIC 19:50MCG
            Sat, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
            GEE vs BRI 13:45SS
            COL vs MEL 14:10MCG
            SYD vs ADE 16:35SCG
            CAR vs NTH 19:20ES
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            WBU vs PTA 14:10ES
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            GWS vs ESS 15:20Spotless Stadium
            STK vs FRE 16:40ES
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            Round 20
            Fri, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
            SYD vs COL 19:50SCG
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            NTH vs STK 14:10BA
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            WBU vs MEL 15:20ES
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            Round 21
            Fri, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
            HAW vs PTA 19:50ES
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            GWS vs SYD 14:10Spotless Stadium
            GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
            STK vs GEE 19:20ES
            ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
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            CAR vs MEL 15:20MCG
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            Round 22
            Fri, 28 AugTimes shown AEST
            GEE vs COL 19:50MCG
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            GWS vs CAR 13:45Spotless Stadium
            HAW vs BRI 14:10AS
            NTH vs WBU 16:35ES
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            STK vs SYD 15:20ES
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            Round 23
            Fri, 04 SepTimes shown AEST
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            RIC vs NTH 00:00ES
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            SYD vs GCF 00:00SCG
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            Overall standings
            Team P W L D % Pts
            Adelaide Crows 3 3 0 0 171.27 12
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            Richmond 3 2 1 0 139.37 8
            Collingwood 3 2 1 0 125.65 8
            GWS Giants 3 2 1 0 113.47 8
            Essendon 3 2 1 0 104.74 8
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