AFL’s mental health work must start earlier, says league’s top expert Dr Kate Hall


Dr Hall said there was already a lot of good work happening in this space and that extensive research showed early intervention was key to preventing mental illness. Work in this area could help prevent mental illness in players in the AFL and AFLW which has been a big talking point in the past few years.

“There’s a lot of effective mental health treatment and prevention programs,” she said. “We just need to make sure they’re integrated and part of the culture.

(L-R) AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan, AFL head of mental health and wellbeing Dr Kate Hall and Lifeline Australia CEO Colin Seery at the launch of the AFL-Lifeline partnership. Credit:Getty Images

“The biggest challenge is to ensure we are not drawn into the treatment and response to mental health issues and drawn away from ensuring we have equal focus on prevention and early intervention.

“The prevention mindset we would like to see across the elite program as well and in terms of how that looks in clubs we are looking at supporting innovation projects that club might implement, to help shift their focus to a club culture that is prevention informed.”

Her appointment, along with that of AFL chief psychiatrist Dr Ranjit Menon, came at the end of a few years where many players took time off for mental illness and went public about their conditions. The most high profile example, Western Bulldogs 2016 premiership hero Tom Boyd, eventually retired because of his struggles.

Dr Hall is not only focusing on players as part of her work, but also all football department staff and all workers at clubs and the league. The league also hopes the Lifeline partnership helps the mental health focus spread all the way to the grassroots.

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She also said the media and fans often understandably search for neat or singular reasons like social media trolls or the pressure of being a famous sportsperson to explain players’ mental illness problems.  But Dr Hall wants to help the AFL industry understand such matters are often far more complex.

“My strong message is to understand one induvidual factor as a contributor would be problematic. I think this is where some of the discourse becomes simplistic … from a mental health perspective we understand a multidue of facors contribute and we know some are induvidual, some are psychological, some are environmental.”

Dr Hall and Dr Menon, along with other relevant AFL stakeholders, have six months to develop their whole-of-industry mental health strategy. There’s already change afoot, however, as recommended by the AFL’s Mental Health Industry Review that was completed before Dr Hall’s appointment. Dr Hall and Dr Menon then see the initial strategy to implement change as running for three years.

The AFL also confirmed on Thursday that clubs were required to spend $250,000 on mental health as part of the soft football department cap for 2020, double 2019’s amount.

If they don’t reach the $250,000 spend on mental health the shortfall can’t be redistributed to other parts of the football department.

Clubs can also spend an extra $200,000 above and beyond the $250,000 requirement, without the extra money falling under the cap.

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