Kate McIlwain

Topo Rodriguez hosts mental health forum at UOW

Former rugby star Enrique “Topo” Rodriguez held a Mental Health Education Forum at the University of Wollongong last night (Monday 31 August).

After leaving a stellar rugby career where he played for Argentina and the Wallabies, Topo Rodriguez was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In 2007 Topo and a group of friends formed the Topo Foundation for Education (TF4E), which is dedicated toward helping those living with mental illnesses.

Around 400 people attended the forum, which focused on ‘high frequency’ mental disorders like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder.

Topo spoke to the crowd about his experiences with bipolar disorder, along with three other speakers who live with mental illnesses, Julie Leitch, Scott Specjal and Nikki Low.

Director of the Illawarra Institute for Mental Health Professor Frank Deane emceed the event, and said the speakers were telling their “stories of courage, hope and the different pathways they have taken to get help.”

The forum was sponsored by UOW’s Student Health Alliance for Rural Populations (SHARP) - the University’s Rural Health Club which harnesses the good intent of students from multiple disciplines in Health and Medicine with a common interest in rural and remote health.

The Topo Foundation educates people about mental health awareness, reducing the stigma of mental illness and promoting suicide prevention, and has so far addressed around 20,000 people to deliver a “message of hope” about mental illness.

Last night’s forum at UOW was part of what Topo calls a “mental health intervention” for the Illawarra region.

“Between 18% and 22% of the [world] population have or will have a mental illness in their lifetime and tragically some 15% of those diagnosed with a mental illness commit suicide,” Topo said.

“By educating everyone about mental health strategies we aim at getting rid of the ‘stigma’ still attached to it. Discussing mental illness is a priority number one for the whole community.”

Topo said he became aware of the need for mental health education in the Illawarra when local MP Noreen Hay invited him to speak at a function in Wollongong 18 months ago about “Destigmatising Mental Illness.” Ms Hay attended last night’s event,

“Since then I have become fully aware of the very great need for mental health education in the Illawarra and have been so very pleased that the University of Wollongong has taken a leadership role in educating the community about mental health issues.” he said.

For more information on SHARP see and for more information on TF4E see