Former rugby league players tour the Pilbara to deliver the NRL State of Mind campaign to remote communities.
Tangiora Hinaki

10 Jun 2019 - 3:19 PM  UPDATED 10 Jun 2019 - 4:49 PM

The National Rugby League launched a new campaign in the Pilbara region of Western Australia last week designed to create social change in communities in regards to issues of mental health, domestic violence and cyber safety. 

Former NRL players Preston Campbell and Clinton Toopi delivered the ‘Don’t Stay On The Sideline'  program which is part of the NRL's State of Mind program.

Mr Toopi said that it's important to deliver the program to grassroots clubs across Australia.

"The education that we are delivering to our grassroots clubs helps increase help-seeking behaviour, it allows our clubs to take a leadership role in this space but also reduces the stigma and it gives our clubs and the football community the confidence to approach it and how to look out for it."

Mr Toopi has not been crippled by the 'Black Dog' but says that you can either be a 'healer or hindrance'.

"For me, I am just trying to encourage those people that are sometimes on the other side of mental health on how to approach it in a really positive manner."

"It sort of aligns with our campaign that we are driving with the State of Origin, sometimes you can be that person on the sideline and if you are not aware of what that looks like (ask yourself), how do I approach it, how do i give them that support without being a person that's putting them down.

"That old language we a have used in the past "get over it mate, you'll be right " that is a really big way that hinders their ability to heal and keeps putting a lid on their feelings and emotions."

NRL legend Preston Campbell has battled with depression and is determined to help get rid of the stigma that surrounds mental health.

 “It’s great to be able to use the game of rugby league to get out and bring awareness and promote mental illness or mental health its not something that a lot of us, past generations have had the privilege of learning about.”

With the rise of online cyber bullying – Clinton Toopi says parents need to be aware of what their chidren are doing online.

“Basically we’re tying to get them to go back to their parents in terms of accessing things, making sure they’re identities protected.  A lot of us are living in the cyber world unfortunately, One of the biggest games in the world today is fortnight and a lot of kids are getting influenced and getting stuck in this cyber world and communicating with people they don’t even know.”

Karratha's Cherysh-O'Kalani Leaf made The Combined Affiliate States (CAS) rugby league team this year and played in the NRL - National Rugby League Harvey Norman National Women's Championship tournament in the Gold Coast in May. 

The 18 year old is keen to play for the Jillaroos or Kiwi Ferns one day in the future.

She started her rugby league career in Karratha with the Pilbara Pirates and has been impacted by cyber bullying.

“It did get hard at times but I always got told not to listen to what anyone tells me over social media and to just be me and smash my goals, so it did drive me to work harder. I wouldn’t say that cyber bullying impacted me positively but it definitely hasn’t harmed me in anyway, this is what pushed me to be a better version of myself!

And in the wake of the Origin Anthem protest, Campbell says it’s an important conversation.

“When we think about the first couple of lines in the national anthem .. ‘Australian’s all, let us rejoice for we are young and free’ so for a lot of our communities they don’t feel like they’re free and obviously we’ve been around for 60 thoursand years so we’re not so young either. It’s not about disrespecting the national anthem, I’ll stand up for the national anthem but you think of your older people and you think about the struggles that they had."

Over the weekend Mr Toopi and Mr Campbell supported the  Karratha rugby league teams for the State of Mind nines competition before heading to the Kimberley.