Monday marked the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week and our National League clubs are using different ways to help tackle the stigma around mental health. Photo Credit: Aaron Bayliss

Our clubs provide more than just 80 minutes of high quality rugby on a Saturday afternoon.

They are a sporting and social hub which help both physical and mental wellbeing and they can also be the support that people need when they are feeling at their lowest.

Sadly, many rugby club members have encountered lives lost to mental health challenges in recent times but the work of the RFU and Simplyhealth, the trusted healthcare partner to England Rugby and the official lead partner for the RugbySafe programme, are always looking to put player welfare at the heart of the game.

They are working hard to keep the whole rugby community healthy to enhance wellbeing in rugby and in everyday life and our National League clubs are very much a part of that.

National One side Bishop’s Stortford [who lost a player to suicide] decided to join an initiative set up by Welwyn RFC called JOCA  (Just One Click Away) which is designed to allow members and the local community to reach out to the club and where necessary, they can provide a counsellor for free within 24 hours.

Speaking to England Rugby, Neil Clark said: “If we can have a conversation, listen, offer support and guidance when it’s needed just maybe we could save a life, a relationship, a poor decision or a wrong move.

“We had our wellbeing committee set up within two months, organised a mental health first aid course, briefed 1,500 members, engaged local counsellors and health professionals and fundraised. We launched JOCA@BSRFC in February last year and in 15 months have supported over 70 hours of professional sessions for a range of health issues raised; raised over £4,000 and branded our First XV and mini shirts.”

Henley have a former player who has launched a charity to make talking about and supporting one another with mental health in the rugby community a normal conversation.  

Simon Trower played for Henley from the age of six until injury ruled him out in his mid-twenties. That experience, his own struggles, and helping a young player at another club has seen him create Brave Mind, which is now piloting mental health programmes with the National Two South club.

Henley chairman Chris Nixon told England Rugby: “We are delighted to be the first club to work closely with Brave Mind. Looking after our mental health has never been more important and we want everyone associated with Henley Rugby Club to know how seriously we take this issue. Help and support is there if people need it – please don’t suffer in silence.”

Meanwhile, Barnes were another club highlighted by the RFU for their #Barnowcares idea which aims to make a difference in the community following the passing of a much loved member of the club during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Stories emerged of the effect of the pandemic while the club was unable to provide either sport or a social life as a release,” chairman Michael Whitfield told England Rugby.

“Single people living alone, older former players and those shielding were really suffering, some with depression, some drinking too much, some just incredibly lonely. The common theme was that our rugby club formed a central part of their lives, both on and off the pitch. It made us realise the importance of a rugby club to its community, and its positive benefit on mental health.

“Several of our members said they wanted to show others that needed some support that we really cared about them, and spread a little happiness by sending out small care packages. Our Head Coach, Joe Gray, took up the baton and raised over £2000 to fund this. We sent out over 60 care packages, helping put a smile on the faces of people that most needed it, while reinforcing that the club is here for them. Mental health is not just a pandemic-related issue, and we know that we must maintain our #BarnowCares initiative well after this pandemic recedes and we are already planning ways to do this.

“We need to maintain our awareness of people’s mental health. Those suffering depression may be the last ones we would expect, and we need to be able to talk to them, and be there for them through their troubled times. I think clubs have become closer to the RFU as a result of the pandemic, with the RFU demonstrating a greater understanding of our needs, and supporting and promoting the things many clubs have done in their local communities to help those in need.

“We are incredibly well placed to work together to raise awareness of mental health and isolation. We can show that we are there for our members, signposting the help available, and offering emotional and other support at the right time. Clubs who have lost players, ex-players and members, who have taken their own lives, already know what a big difference this could make. Now is the time for rugby to raise funds, raise awareness and raise people’s spirits – let’s all work together and make that happen”.

Teams like Chester are also involved with the charity Looseheadz, who aim to prevent, promote, educate and signpost mental health awareness.

The hope is that the stigma around talking about our mental health and the resulting risks are being reduced by training in spotting the signs and a readiness to step in and offer help.

Quotes courtesy of