Plymouth Albion’s Dan Mugford speaks to about his own mental health journey and why charities such as Movember have such a positive impact on further raising awareness. Photo Credit: (PPA – Pinnacle Photo Agency)

A tweet which Dan Mugford posted last month was an all-too familiar one.

Another campaign in National One has been blighted by injury for Plymouth Albion’s fly-half and frustratingly, Mugford finds himself on the sidelines once again.

“It is going to be a long one – it is probably the most serious injury of my career,” says Mugford. “Against Canterbury, I managed to break my leg, dislocate my ankle, rupture my syndesmosis and every ligament going in my ankle.”

Just speaking to Mugford over the phone, you get the sense of how disappointed he is to be missing out on a large portion of this season: “I guess it is part of the game so I have to try and take the rough with the smooth.”

Plying his trade for Plymouth Albion is something Mugford has relished, but two years ago, his rugby career came to halt and the anxiety and depression it caused drove him to the brink of suicide.

Mugford seemed to be living the dream back in 2014/15. He was playing in the Premiership at Sale Sharks and the latest chapter in his career had started superbly with the fly-half kicking 14 points on his debut against Harlequins.

However, his time with Sale came to an end after just one season as the club released Mugford from his contract leaving the then 25-year-old at a crossroads.

“I really struggled with anxiety and pressure at that time and that led on to quite a deep depression,” he says. “I think for me at the time, my anxiety of worrying about the unknown and worrying about people’s judgement of myself and whatever else really did affect me.

“It affected my game and affected me on a day-to-day basis which affected those around me. It was a really tough time in my life.”

Mugford’s depression and anxiety was starting to take control of his life, but he sought help from the Rugby Players’ Association and began to receive therapy.

A route back into rugby for Mugford also appeared as Kieran Hallett, Plymouth’s head coach at the time, offered him the opportunity to play in the third tier of English rugby.

“The RPA are absolutely fantastic,” he says. “They set me up with therapy and that’s how I then started to put the framework in place to start feeling a lot better.

“That, plus the group I joined down at Plymouth Albion was great for me. I think I said it at the time, but Kieran was a real rock for me and I couldn’t really thank him more for the way he was. I have had to go through some therapy and I have had to do things like a lot of meditation and working on self-help books because at the end of the day, these things don’t just disappear.

“You don’t just click a button and you’re all OK again. We all have stresses and issues in daily life. Life is hard at the moment and sometimes there is a lot of pressure and scrutiny put on people so those organisations, individuals and my family helped me more than I could ever imagine.”

Mugford is now one of a growing number of players who are comfortable about discussing mental health in the sport and it is a topic which is continuing to generate more awareness.

Sale Sharks’ Denny Solomona, Sam James and Luke James are all ambassadors of the foundation Looseheadz whilst former and current players such as Kearnan Myall and Worcester’s Jono Kitto have spoken to the media about their own struggles over the last three months or so.

Mugford hopes rugby can be used as a tool to promote awareness for mental health and he also urges clubs at all levels of the game to continue prioritising player welfare.

He adds: “There has been a real push on mental health throughout all sport. I’m sure I wasn’t the first to come out and talk about it but I think there are a lot more people now who are willing to say they are going through a difficult time.

“When people do say that now, they are treated as human beings and understand that it is allowed. In times gone by, it might have been a case of ‘man up and get on with it’ and I feel like that culture is very much gone and people are more willing to put their arm around somebody and ask if they need help or whether they are OK.

“I actually see a lot on Sale Sharks’ social media really pushing help for mental health and I know Denny Solomona is a big advocate as well so I just think it is great that these places are pushing it and hopefully supporting the players who do need an arm around the shoulder.”

One charity which is currently using rugby as one of their many platforms to promote awareness for mental health is Movember.

Mugford is a keen supporter of the world’s leading men’s health charity which doesn’t just focus on mental health, but also illnesses such as prostate cancer and testicular cancer.

“Movember is helping to tackle the stigma of men not talking about these things,” Mugford says. “It breaks the stigma of not talking about it because ‘I am a man who needs to be tough.’ You can be tough, but we all go through issues such as mental health and illnesses such as testicular cancer.

“I think Movember have been really good and really clever in the way they do things. Because it is marketed at just men, it is almost a ‘cool’ thing to do and that is just fantastic. Any mental health charity that is really pushing the message and helping people, I am always more than willing to get involved with and obviously Movember is the biggest on the globe at doing that for men’s health.”

Plymouth Albion are one of many clubs to take part in Movember this year and the NCA are also doing our bit too.

We are asking clubs across all three divisions to help raise awareness and funds in as many ways as possible, whether that be a whole squad growing moustaches or running half-time competitions, match day collections, fundraising events…it is entirely up to you.

What we encourage you to do as an individual or a team is to sign up to and you can then join our NCA Movember network where the money you raise will contribute to the overall NCA page total which is already over £1,000.

Albion, have in fact, raised the most money for an individual club so far and Mugford believes continuing to grow awareness of men’s health issues will only encourage more people to open up about their own struggles in life.

“For me, the first step is always the hardest step,” Mugford says.

“People say ‘just talk, just talk’ and I know how hard that can be. I know when the anxiety kicks in, it is so hard saying those words out loud.

“I can guarantee that once you start to get your problems out loud, you can then start to look at them and find ways to deal with them. I am always willing to have a chat with anyone who maybe struggling to point them in the right direction.

“That is another huge part of it all; listening to those who just need to get it out. I have always found that if and when I do struggle with things, if I can say it out loud, the weight is lifted off my shoulders and you can start to look at solutions and start to see how to deal with things. You can also get advice from those around you because people will help you.”