A new mental health intervention targeting one of Australia’s most at risk groups for suicide – adolescent males, will explore the power of ‘team mentality’ in sporting clubs to address mental illness.

Led by University Of Newcastle (UON) researcher Dr Andrew Miller, the study will involve 50 sporting clubs on the Central Coast including AFL, soccer, basketball, swimming and tennis clubs, challenging males aged 12 to 17 to consider ‘You help your mates on the field, why not help them off it too?’.

Dr Miller said the study would leverage team-oriented cultures at sporting clubs to encourage awareness and acceptance of help seeking behaviours.

“More than two thirds of all adolescent males participate in organised sports each year with the average individual spending over eight and a half hours in organised sports a week. This means they’re at their local clubs a lot, and they’re in a place where they’re engaged, they’re doing something they love and they’re part of a social environment.”

“With half of all mental health issues displaying onset before the age of 14, sporting clubs are great environments for early detection if we can reduce the stigma of mental illness and promote help seeking within these spaces. This environment could be very powerful in helping young people find help early, and provide great support to adolescents going through a tough time if they feel accepted in this environment” said Dr Miller.

Funded by the Movember Foundation, the study will be undertaken in conjunction with the University of Wollongong as well as several peak sports bodies and mental health organisations, including the Australian Drug Foundation, The Black Dog Institute, Cricket Australia, Swimming Australia and the Australian Football League.

Dr Miller said with 14 per cent of Australian children and adolescents suffering from a mental illness, the issue is a significant one.

“Mental disorders are one of the biggest contributors to ill health among young people worldwide and they can carry significant personal, social, and economic costs that can last a lifetime.”

Dr Miller’s research team is currently seeking mentors to help deliver the initiative. If you’re over the age of 18, involved in sport, have experienced a mental health illness and you would like to be involved in helping facilitate this study please contact the research team at erin.boake@newcastle.edu.au or andrew.miller@newcastle.edu.au.