Reni Maitua voices concerns of mental health to NRL

  • February 1, 2015

reni maitua nrl mental healthReni Maitua has called on the NRL to remain vigilant on the issue of mental health for young footballers. Photo: Phil Hillyard

1 February 2015

By James Hooper – The Sunday Telegraph

IF anyone is qualified to talk about suicide, it’s recently retired NRL star Reni Maitua.

In August, 2013, Maitua tried to take his own life before teammate Willie Tonga saved him.

Last weekend, the rugby league community in North Queensland was rocked by the separate suicides of two rising NRL hopefuls, Regan Grieve and Hayden Butler.

Grieve, a two-time Australian Schoolboy and Queensland under-16s and under-18s player, was four days shy of his 19th birthday.

Their deaths follow those of rookie Wests Tigers forward Mosese Fotuaika and rising North Queensland Cowboys hopeful Alex Elisala in 2013, again shining a light on the issue of mental health for young footballers.

As the rugby league and wider communities continue to mourn, former Bulldogs and Eels star Maitua has called on the NRL to remain vigilant.

“It’s the biggest killer of young Australians between the age of 15 and 44, so the stats are clear,” Maitua said.

“It definitely needs to be addressed. A lot of people don’t like talking about the stigma of mental health or depression, but we’re living in the 21st century.

“It’s time to address the situation. Why aren’t we doing more about it? That’s the way I see it.

“I’m not too sure of the individual circumstances with the two boys earlier this week, but it’s obviously extremely sad. They’re both young rugby league players and that is where it becomes a bit more confronting for myself.

“It’s something that’s been creeping into the rugby league community, especially in the past three years.

“It’s alarming that these young footballers are taking their lives, so clearly it’s something the NRL needs to put near the top of their priority list. It needs to be looked at appropriately by each individual club. Obviously it’s hard for the NRL to police it.

“They need to make sure each club is doing everything they can to make sure it’s continually monitored throughout the year.

“That means not just bringing in an expert once a year and saying they’ve done enough. It needs to be regularly addressed. It’s not for absolutely everyone but it will affect someone at some stage.”

The NRL funds a welfare officer at all 16 clubs, but head of football Todd Greenberg said the governing body was always looking to do more.

Recently retired international players Nigel Vagana and Andrew Ryan are employed by the NRL to develop welfare programs and assistance, with the game also working on education programs with experts such as The Black Dog Institute.

“One of our aims is to encourage young players to come forward and talk about their problems,” Greenberg said. “That means striking the right balance between using players with experience in football clubs and experts who are trained to deal with the type of problems that players confront.

“We also need to put an emphasis on managing the cultural changes that players from different backgrounds face. These are tragic cases and we will keep looking for ways to support young players and give them the support they need.”

Maitua said he is happy to help: “The thing with mental health is it doesn’t discriminate, it can happen to anyone.”