Mental health service seeks support to help young people

February 10, 2024 BY

Read The Play general manager Michelle Gerdtz. Photo: MICHAEL CHAMBERS

LOCAL mental health service Read the Play (RTP) is calling for help to reach its goal of supporting 15,000 young players in all sporting clubs across the Barwon region by 2026.

The charity aims to boost mental health literacy in young people by delivering free interactive, games-based programs with themes such as cyber bullying, suicide awareness, risk-taking behaviours and alcohol harm minimisation.

It’s seeking as much support as possible to make this goal a reality, including funding assistance and partnerships with local businesses.

“We are so motivated to reach this number and help as many young people as possible,” RTP general manager Michelle Gerdtz said.

“A recent Deakin evaluation conducted showed one in 11 young people sought help from their club player wellbeing officer or coach within eight weeks of completing the program.

“That’s more than 1,300 young people that might not become a sad suicide statistic.”

She said her heart sank every time she read about a suicide in the local paper.

“The article reads about a sudden death, and I immediately scroll to the bottom of the article and there it is.

“If you are struggling, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

“[January 29’s] local paper tells us about former Belmont Lions player Kevin ‘Wiggy’ Miller who died on 22 January, aged 38.

“On Tuesday 26 December, it was Winchelsea’s Ed Smith, aged 21, who had taken his life just before Christmas.

“And on Tuesday 23 January, it was Geelong Falcons trainer and mentor, Kevin Evans.”

Ms Gerdtz said she recalled a RTP session late last year during which Evans spoke of his struggles.

“He said he wished that such a program was available when he was younger and implored everyone in the room to seek help if they were struggling with their mental health. He was speaking from experience.

“I don’t want to do it, but I’m sure I’ll find more examples if I look hard enough.”

RTP reached more than 1,000 local athletes through its programs for young people aged 14-18 across football, netball, and basketball last year.

Over the next 12 months, the organisation is hoping to roll out its program to any sporting club in region interested in its service.

Its aim is to increase its reach to 1,500 young people this year, 7,500 in 2025 and then ultimately 15,000 in 2026.

The organisation is also hoping to secure funding to support the development of two programs for young people aged 12-14 that will focus on team building and resilience with topics relating to smoking, alcohol and vaping.

Psychologist and RTP patron Dr Michael Carr-Gregg said mental health support was required before concerns escalate.

“There’s no point in having people like me who are ambulances at the bottom of the cliff.”

“We need to build robust fences at the top – this is what Read the Play is all about”.

For more information, head to readtheplay.org.au

If you or someone you know needs mental health support, head to beyondblue.org.au or phone their 24/7 hotline on 1300 224 636. You can also head to lifeline.org.au or phone them on 13 11 14. Help for young people is available at kidshelpline.com.au or by phoning 1800 551 800.

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