Mental illness is a serious ongoing issue that can affect anyone, any time, regardless of their mental health history.
One of the biggest challenges confronting mental illness is the fact that many people find it very difficult to talk about, particularly young men, and that’s where Matt Hodgson, the Western Force’s RUPA Player Director, comes in.
Hodgson has teamed up with LIVIN, a registered charity co-founded in 2013 by Sydneysider Sam Webb (who recently starred on the television series Survivor) and Queenslander Casey Lyons who lost their best mate to suicide and decided to do something about the taboo that exists around mental health issues, and he plays a key role in the day-to-day operations of LIVIN in Western Australia.
Hodgson’s primary role is as an ambassador for the charity, leveraging his profile as the most-capped player in the Western Force’s history and Wallaby No. 841 to highlight the importance of mental health awareness, detection and treatment. LIVIN aims to help people living with mental health issues to own their illnesses and not be afraid to speak up about their problems. In turn, LIVIN hopes these people become empowered by who they are, and not what they suffer from.
Click here to follow Matt’s journey with LIVIN via his excellent Instagram account.
One in five Australians every year suffers from a mental health challenge (these stats are far higher for FIFO workers & Indigenous Australians), and over 65% of those experiencing a struggle won't reach out for help; instead they will suffer in silence. Sadly, eight Australians a day are losing their life to this epidemic.
Recently, Hodgson gave up his time to travel with Webb throughout Western Australia to various mining sites, trying to instil into people the importance of acknowledging signs of mental illnesses in themselves and those around them.
“We aligned ourselves with FMG (Fortescue Metal Group),” Hodgson explains to RUPA, “who are my sponsor at the Force.
“Sam and I spent the week travelling first to Port Hedland, and then members of the LIVIN WA team hit seven FMG sites in five days. We gave about 20 presentations and workshops, trying to create a community and safe environment for people to feel comfortable that they’ll be able to speak up about mental illness 365 days of the year.”
Hodgson was able to relate to the employees of the mining site who spend large periods of time away from their families, as his Rugby career has seen him regularly touring not only Australia but also New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, Argentina and more.
“Our largest LIVIN target audience here in Western Australia are people whose lives revolved around fly in, fly out (FIFO) work; not just the miners, but also the people they leave at home. We understand that for these people, their mental health issues can be heightened because of the environment they’re working within.
“For those who are working away from home, they are often left without their family support and network, and spend much time in isolation. An average day away on site can be a 12-hour work shift, followed by eating dinner by themselves and then returning to their room to spend the night alone. In the long run, as well as encouraging them to communicate the struggles that they might be having better, LIVIN would also love to help break down that isolation by being more heavily involved on these sites and helping to create a community away from home.
“When I meet these people, I’m able to talk about the time I spend away from family for weeks on end during Rugby tours. Sometimes you’ve got people around you that not often you feel confident with, or you can be placed in a situation where you don’t want to speak up about your issues, so it is very similar.
“We too go through highs and lows in Rugby, like injuries, selection stress and even deciding whether to retire or not, and often the response of a Rugby player in those situations is to isolate yourself; there are certainly some big parallels to be drawn between the two lifestyles.”
Hodgson’s reputation as a hard man of Australian Rugby makes him a perfect fit for LIVIN, where the mantra is that ‘it ain’t weak to speak’. LIVIN headquarters is situated in Queensland, so there were a number of challenges associated with operating on the western side of the country.
“I got involved with LIVIN through mutual friends who trained at my gym,” Hodgson, who owns F45 businesses in Western Australia, said. “I helped out with a fundraiser they were doing, and from there I started finding out a lot more information and realising how many people within my close circle are affected by mental health issues. I could see what a great charity it was the more I looked into it, so from there I decided to invest as much time as I could into LIVIN WA in my role as an ambassador.
“We decided to start our own branch of LIVIN in Western Australia, and I’m proud to be part of the committee for that, and now we have a number of different initiatives and a big annual fundraising event which raise awareness for what we’re doing.
“To be an ambassador in the first place you have to undertake mental health training, so I went and did a Mental Health First Aid course over four days. There, they talked about signs and symptoms, how to deal with situations of crises and what to say, and not to say. Also, I get the opportunity to participate in the ‘LIVIN Well Workshop’, where you actually talk about what you’ve learnt and share some of your life stories. It’s been a really eye-opening experience getting involved with LIVIN, and I’m so pleased I decided to get involved.”
If you want to get involved with LIVIN, it’s really easy and you don’t even necessary need to donate time or money. One of their main fundraising initiatives is sending their message through fashion, so you can spread the word and provide much needed injections of money through purchasing the t-shirts, budgie smugglers, hats, bags, jumpers and more they have for sale on their website. It’s not just Matt that’s involved either; a quick peruse of the website will show the likes of Chris Hemsworth, Kelly Slater, Jonathan Thurston and Sonny-Bill Williams getting behind the charity through fashion!
Away from his charity work, Hodgson has recently re-signed for another season at the Force, after a 2016 that was ended prematurely when he dislocated his shoulder against the Blues. But now, with preseason quickly approaching, the three-time Nathan Sharpe Medal winner is refreshed and ready to take on his next Super Rugby campaign, where he will also take on a role as part of new Head Coach David Wessels’ staff as he starts to prepare for his transition out of playing Rugby.
“I’ve pretty much been doing full training for the last little while,” he says. “The way my shoulder was I probably could’ve played the finals series of the Buildcorp NRC, but we decided not to rush it and instead to take our time and get it 100% right to attack pre-season.”
Hodgson is excited by the young players coming through in the West, as shown by the Perth Spirit taking out the Buildcorp NRC, and he’s confident that NRC success can flow on to the 2017 Super Rugby season.
“The best thing about the Perth Spirit winning was we saw that no matter who put on the jersey, they played with pride and gave it their all,” he says. “Winning starts to becoming a habit, and the guys are really starting to learn how to win.
“The momentum shift has been really evident, and with the confidence that it brings you find that things, like those 50/50 decisions, start to feel like they go your way. It’s been a great step forward by the boys, and a great way to lead into the pre-season.
“What we’re trying to build over here is a culture where anyone who’s playing good football is going to get picked. The young guys coming through the system, such as Richard Hardwick and Ross Haylett-Petty in the backrow, are really starting to shine and that’s very exciting.”