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Emilie Wells
UOW Media and Corporate Communications Officer
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Adolescent males targeted in new mental health campaign

Ahead of the Game using grassroots sport to prevent mental health issues

In conjunction with the 2016 Mental Health Awareness Week, researchers at the University of Wollongong (UOW) are calling on local sporting clubs to get involved with a new project targeting adolescent males, a group at high risk of mental health problems.

The Ahead of the Game program is targeted at adolescent males who participate in sports and includes coach training workshops, programs for adolescent males and programs for their parents. As part of the program, researchers will be undertaking a study to better understand how Ahead of the Game can help local clubs to improve mental health knowledge and how to prevent or reduce the impact of mental health problems in adolescent males.

Ahead of the Game lead researcher Dr Stewart Vella from UOW’s Early Start Research Institute (ESRI) said the program uses organised sport as a way to reach adolescent males, who are naturally at high risk of mental health problems.

“One man dies from suicide every minute and we have found that young men wait far too long to seek help for mental health problems, with some delaying treatment for up to nine years,” Dr Vella said.

“Three-quarters of adolescent males participate in organised sports and we really do believe that sports have a big role to play in the prevention of mental health problems in Australia.

“Sport lends itself to the opportunity to teach important lessons with participation in sport associated with the development of social and emotional skills. With such a high national importance placed on sport and large participation numbers among adolescent males, sport is a great channel to tackle important mental health issues.”

Ahead of the Game aims to equip adolescent males with the skills, confidence, and support systems to recognise the warning signs of mental health problems and act on them as early as possible.

“Through the program we want to provide adolescent males with greater resilience to mental health problems and greater wellbeing,” Dr Vella said.

“Our programs include Help Out a Mate; a workshop that will guide adolescent males through recognising when a team mate is having a tough time, how to speak to them and what to do.

“Participants in the program will also be able to access a wellbeing program to improve performance and build resilience.”

Researchers will be collecting data prior to the start of the summer sport season, with the program running anywhere from a few weeks to a whole season. The Ahead of the Game project team will work closely with participating clubs to ensure the program is delivered in the best way possible, with participation in each activity entirely voluntary.

Sporting clubs who are interested in getting involved with the program can email or call (02) 4221 5268.

This project is part of UOW's strategic research initiative, the Global Challenges Program, which addresses mental health as an important component of Living Well, Longer.

Ahead of the Game comprises the expertise of multiple researchers within ESRI and UOW’s School of Psychology, and is supported by the Australian Sports Commission and the governing bodies of six of the most popular sports for adolescent males: the Football Federation of Australia, the Australian Football League, Tennis Australia, Basketball Australia, Swimming Australia, and Cricket Australia. Community partners include the Black Dog Institute and the Australian Drug Foundation, the Movember Foundation and other collaborating University partners including the Australian Catholic University.