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By Matt Fotia

Mental Health issues comes in all shapes and sizes.

And despite the strides made in recent years there remains a stigma around seeking help, especially at sporting clubs.

One EFNL club is going above and beyond to make sure all of its members have a safe space to talk freely about their struggles and start the process of getting the help they need.

Surrey Park, under the communications leadership of Grace Sketcher, have been in the social media spotlight of late for their ongoing Instagram TV (IGTV) series RUOK TV.

Hosted by Sketcher, the series has seen a number of Surrey Park personalities talk openly about their experiences with Mental Health, whether that be their own struggles or their loved ones battles.

Sketcher, who has been connected to the club for a number of years via her brother Darcy – who plays in the senior side – stepped up her involvement ahead of the scheduled 2020 season training as part of the Panthers first senior women’s side.

With the season cancelled due to the coronavirus, Surrey Park like all EFNL clubs were keen to keep their members engaged sans football and netball.

Sketcher, who has always had a passion for creative topics proposed the idea of RUOK TV and was so convincing that the club handed her the title of club Communications Adviser.

 

Mental Health is something very close to Grace, having battled with Anxiety and Depression amongst other things throughout her life, particularly throughout the stressful end of her Year 12 studies.

Things got so bad that Grace couldn’t bring herself to go to school and pretend to be the bubbly personality that people knew her as.

“It got to a point where I didn’t even want to go to school, because I found I couldn’t be around people or be the person that most people assumed I was,”

“The effort I had to put in to pretend to be that person had become so exhausting that I knew if I was going to get back to who I was, I needed to reach out to someone.”

Despite the signs being visible to those close to her, Sketcher says that the stigma around approaching someone who is struggling stopped them from reaching out to her.

“People around me had realised I was struggling, but it is a sensitive topic because a lot of people don’t want to reach out before you come to them and explain how you’re feeling,”

“So when I finally let all my friends and family know what was going on, it was a weight off their shoulders as well because they knew that they could finally actively help me.”

The beginning of the pandemic hit Sketcher – like many others – hard.

Working in a supermarket meant she was at the forefront of initial buyer panic and she says that the transition to online counselling can become confronting for those suffering anxiety. She says finding her own pace has helped her cope with the ongoing uncertainty in the world.

RUOK TV landed on the Surrey Park Instagram on the 5th of September after six weeks of planning and preparation from Sketcher and the Panthers.

Episode 0 was the pilot, which saw Grace introduce herself, the show and bravely detail her own mental health struggles.

The next showing focused on Grace’s brother Darcy, who spoke about Mental Health from the other point of view – a helpless loved one. Darcy speaks candidly about what it’s like to see a family member struggle and how best to help.

 

During the six weeks leading up to the first episode, Surrey Park conducted a Health and Wellbeing survey with its players and in the survey asked if they were comfortable chatting about the topic in front of the camera.

To Grace’s surprise a strong contingent put their hand up.

Everyone I asked was super excited to get on board and that’s the exact type of culture we want to grow at Surrey Park,”

“The episode that had a number of our senior men’s players in it gave me tingles at various points because of how open and willing they were to speak about their own experiences.”

“Our episode with Michael Paolini wasn’t in the planning either, his wife actually contacted me after a couple of episodes and said that he’d had some mental health experiences over the years and that’d she love for him to do an episode.”

The show has gathered support from both the Surrey Park community and beyond, with a number of mental health organisations reaching out to the club via social media.

“It (the show) has had a lot of love from people within the club, who have been sharing it saying how proud they are to be part of a club like Surrey Park,”

“We’ve also had a couple of mental health organisations reach out and say that once the 2021 season comes around and the club is back up and running that they’d love to partner with us and continue that education journey with our players and the rest of the club,”

“It’s at the community level that we’re going to really make a difference on issues like these, by removing that stigma around having conservations about mental health.”

 

For those finding themselves in a tough spot mentally at the moment or for those who are unsure on how to help someone they think might be struggling, Sketcher has some words of advice.

“I’m a big advocate for reaching out to professional counsellors and persevering through that process, as daunting as it can be to start with,”

“You’re never going to regret having that conversation (about mental health)and it doesn’t need to look like asking those three words (are you okay?), you can be really creative with it and just send someone a new song, start a normal conversation,”

“It doesn’t need to be a streamlined conversation, you just need to show that you’re there for them.”

 

You can follow Surrey Park on Instagram via the handle – surreyparkfc

If you’re experiencing distress or mental health issues the following numbers can help.

Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14

Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636

Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800

Confidential Helpline – 1800 737 732

Mensline – 1300 78 99 78

Realtionships Australia –  1300 364 277

Emergency – 000

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