RPA Column - May

It's Mental Health Awareness Month so for our May column we spoke to Rich Bryan, Player Welfare Director, and Natalie Beckett, Head of Membership Services, on the wellbeing initiatives and support being offered to our members this season.

This season we have continued the successful rollout of the Mental Health First Aid Training Course (MHFA) programme, across the Premiership clubs. The aim of delivering this course is to raise mental health awareness, reduce stigma around mental health and enhance a positive support culture in the clubs.

The two-day course, led by MHFA instructor Ben Morris, is fully funded by the RPA, with the attendees being a mix of players, senior coaching staff, and academy staff.  Embedding this dedicated First Aid training into each club through a mix of players and staff will provide greater informed understanding and encouragement to talk more freely about mental health and supporting others.

In partnership with the RFU and PRL, we also launched a new four-year partnership with EPIC Risk Management (EPIC) to deliver a Gambling Awareness Education programme.

EPIC use first-hand experience to educate players on the risks of problem gambling and gaming, while illustrating when and how to get help. The programme will also include crucial anti-corruption education.  Delivery will be across Premiership, Championship and Women’s Premier 15s clubs, international squads in both the 15s and 7s game, as well as young academy players.

In 2017, EPIC helped us to deliver the first gambling awareness education programme for elite athletes in the UK. To be able to build on that relationship and deliver a multi-year, in-depth programme for more players with EPIC, the RFU and PRL is a significant step. Research suggests that professional athletes are more likely to be problem gamblers than those in the general population and the effects can be devastating. As such, it is crucial for us to ensure that players understand the risks associated with problem gambling, as well as the support available to them.

Social Media awareness education has been something we have been providing to our members for several years.  This advice has covered a range of topics including social media best practice, and how players can take care of themselves online, and their social media use and presence.

We have enhanced that education this season by delivering sessions to players on Dealing with Social Media Abuse.  These sessions, delivered by Matt Himsworth, a media lawyer and director of B5 Consultancy, focus on how to deal with low level negativity, the coping mechanisms and use of social media tools; and how players can reach out for support, and report threats and abuse.

These sessions have been an important addition to our education in this space, particularly with the increasing problem of threats, hatred, and racism online that impacts all sport, and can influence players’ mental health. We are determined to support our members and for them to know that if they are faced with online abuse in any form, they do not have to face it alone, and that we are here to help.

In addition to these specific programmes, we also run various initiatives in the mental health space for our members including access to our 24/7 confidential counselling service funded by Restart, the ‘Lift the Weight’ campaign which provides videos, advice and support related to a range of mental health issues, and one to one access to mental health first aid trained Development Managers.

We believe that looking after our members Mental Health is just as vital as their physical health and its important for them to know that it is safe to talk and we are here to support them.