Australian Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games athletes are joining the fight to help reduce rates of mental health issues in young Australians as part of a new community partnership between the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Black Dog Institute.
Designed to help young people manage their mental health and improve their general wellbeing, the Mental Fitness Program will see 27 current and former elite athletes assist in delivering mental wellbeing presentations, both in-person and online, at high schools throughout the country.
Mental Fitness Program presenter and Commonwealth Games gold medallist boxer Harry Garside said his personal experience with mental health education at school was a game-changer.
"I wanted to get involved in the Mental Fitness Program because I know first hand that these workshops can have a significant impact and change the course of a young person's life," said Garside.
"As an elite athlete, I want to role model behaviour that promotes self-care and positive psychology to help improve the wellbeing and resilience of young Australians."
In Australia, it is estimated that 1 in 5 people will experience symptoms of mental illness in any given year, and approximately 60% of those people won't seek help. Black Dog Institute research reveals over 75 percent of mental health issues develop before the age of 25 which shows the importance of tackling the subject from an early age.
AIS Director Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement Matti Clements said in these challenging times it is important young people have the skills to look after their mental wellbeing.
"Like adults, young people can face numerous challenges in the modern world and the impacts of COVID19 on schooling and everyday life has added that extra layer of pressure," said Clements.
"Now more than ever it is vital that young people are taught how to look after their mental wellbeing, and the AIS is thrilled to partner with a renowned research leader such as Black Dog Institute to deliver this critical program to high school students across Australia."
Black Dog Institute Director and Chief Scientist Helen Christensen said the ability to bring sport and community together to teach meaningful life skills was needed now more than ever.
"We are absolutely delighted to partner with the AIS to deliver the Mental Fitness Program in Australian high schools, at a city, state and national level," said Christensen.
"Young people are more likely to take up mental health and wellbeing training if these programs are delivered by a person with whom they can resonate. The earlier these programs are offered, the more likely the effects will be long lasting."
The Mental Fitness Program is a unique offering that brings together two of the Institute's existing programs – the Mental Fitness Presentation and the Bite Back Mental Fitness Challenge.
Research conducted by the Black Dog Institute revealed that almost 80 per cent of people say their mental health was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with visitors to blackdoginstitute.org.au doubling as people sought techniques to cope with anxiety and stress.
For any schools interested in a free Black Dog Mental Fitness Presentation delivered by an elite athlete, you can submit an online request via the Black Dog Institute website - here.
The Mental Fitness Program is one of three community engagement initiatives offered to Australian athletes by the AIS, alongside Lifeline Community Custodians and Share a Yarn.
For further information – visit www.ais.gov.au/community-engagement or www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/education-services/ais-mental-fitness-program/
Mental Fitness Program athlete presenters
Alyce Wood, Paddle Australia
Andrew Edmondson, Wheelchair Rugby
Belinda Maxworthy, Archery Australia
Cam Crombie, Athletics Australia
Carlee Beattie, Athletics Australia
Carly James, Hockey Australia
Declan Stacey, Diving
Dylan Pietsch, Rugby Australia
Georgie Rowe, Rowing Australia
Gordon Allan, Cycling Australia
Harry Garside, Boxing Australia
Holly Takos, Cycling Australia
Jaime Roberts, Paddle Australia
Jennifer Tait, Volleyball Australia
Jo Brigden-Jones, Paddle Australia
Joshua Thornton, Bowls Australia
Kaye Scott, Boxing Australia
Kieran Woolley, Skate Australia
Liam Twomey, Triathlon Australia
Matthew Denny, Athletics Australia
Melissa Tapper, Table Tennis Australia
Mitchell Gourley, Snow Australia
Nicola Hammond, Hockey Australia
Nikki Ayers, Rowing Australia
Noemie Fox, Paddle Australia
Olivia Vivian, Gymnastics Australia
Rachel Tallent, Athletics Australia