Mental health a priority for top athletes

By Tumamao Harawira

Former Blues first-five Ōtere Black says athletes have to deal with a lot of stress, and he says the mental well-being of New Zealand's elite athletes needs to be top of the agenda.

"Mental health is getting a lot better. But there needs to be a lot more done."

The mental health of elite athletes has come into focus with the sudden death of cyclist Olivia Podmore. Podmore was a member of the New Zealand cycling team that competed at Rio in 2016 but she failed to make the squad for Tokyo.

Now there are discussions under way on whether athletes get enough support through organisations that run that particular sport, and whether the pressure this country places on its athletes is unhealthy, not only for athletes but also those closest to them.

Black says it wasn't just stress on him "but stress on my family, my partner, and my young girl."

In 2014, Ōtere hit rugby's big time with his first year with the Manawatū Turbos, which led to a Hurricanes Super Rugby debut the following year. In 2017 Ōtere made the decision to move north to the Blues.

"I was in Wellington for three years, then to Auckland for four, now I'm heading overseas. It's not only hard on the body but also on the mind."

"A lot of people don't understand the pressures associated with moving teams and cities."

Ōtere says social media is a dangerous place for athletes, and more needs to be done to educate athletes on the dangers.

"It would be good if our mental health advocates could find ways to deal with social media because when athletes they leave the team or go to their room, they are there reading comments from other people."

If you are concerned about someone who may need help, contact Lifeline 0800 543 354 or the Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 TAUTOKO.