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Figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics show that suicide rates in the UK are at a 20-year high, with the Yorkshire and Humber region having the highest rates.
Suicide is never a solution: as dark as the tunnel someone may find themselves in, light is always closer than they may think.
Our Offload mental wellbeing campaign has helped steer a number of men back into the light: we also have lots of other resources available to offer supports including a series of virtual workshops featuring some high profile people from within the sport.
Here is the testimony of Mark Davies, a fantastic, well-loved parent, partner and friend of many, who tells his story in his own words of the difference RL Cares and Offload has made to his life.
“I have struggled with mental health since I was 17. I had a really difficult relationship with my stepmum and things seemed to spiral.
The low point for me came a couple of years ago when my dad died. We were very close and had a strong common bond through Rugby League.
When he died I went off the rails. I tried to take my own life by drinking the best part of a bottle of morphine. It was a dark, scary time and I wasn’t in a good place but for the sake of my wife and four children I decided I was going to sort myself out.
I saw a post on Facebook about Offload taking place at Warrington Wolves and thought I’d give it a try. It’s the best decision I have ever made.
Although I live in Warrington I’m a St Helens lad born and bred – my dad coached at Blackbrook – and it felt strange walking through the door at The Halliwell Jones Stadium for the first Offload fixture. Once the session began, though, I knew it was for me.
It’s not easy talking about mental illness but when you’re with a group of blokes who have so much in common with you it’s like a weight being lifted.
I have made some great friends through Offload, friends who will stay with me for life. They’ve told me that when I first came along I was a very angry man and seemed unapproachable. Hopefully that’s not the case anymore.
Our squad has set up its own Facebook group and are always in touch on Twitter. My involvement has inspired me move forward with my life. Things are now easier at home because I don’t get wound up as easily.
There’s so much variety within the fixtures and I’ve been able to take something from everyone. Ian Smith, the former Super League referee, has been incredibly supportive.
I was going through hell and speaking to Ian really did turn my life around.
He talked through the situation I was in at the time and together we found a way through it. We’ve become good friends, although that doesn’t stop me giving him some stick from time to time about his refereeing!
It’s also been great listening to people like Phil Veivers. I’ve looked up to Phil since I used to watch him from the terrace at Knowsley Road and it’s great enjoying banter with him at Offload fixtures.
I spoke to my doctor and told him about Offload. He questioned it on the grounds of equality because it’s a male-only thing but he’s impressed by the difference it’s made to me.
Offload provides something men like me can’t get within the NHS.
At the start it was hard to break down my own barriers. I am old school, I kept things to myself and wasn’t a nice person to be around.
Offload has smashed down those barriers and not only have I helped myself I am now helping others.
I’ve just started something called The Shoe Project which involves collecting unwanted shoes from people in the UK and sending them overseas for children in Afghanistan and Syria to wear.
I feel like a better person because of Offload and I can’t thank Rugby League Cares and Warrington Wolves enough for the difference they’ve made to my life.
However, they’ll never get a Warrington shirt on the back of this St Helens lad, no matter how hard my Offload squadmates keep trying!”
The hugely successful men’s mental fitness programme run by Rugby League Cares will kick-off at the home of the Betfred Super League champions in the New Year.
Offload is a health initiative designed by RL Cares with input from State of Mind and is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. It helps men tackle issues such as depression and anxiety and develop coping strategies to successfully manage the crises we all face in everyday life.
Staged over 10 weekly ‘fixtures’, Offload is presented by former Rugby League players and officials who share their experiences of dealing with pressure, health problems and challenging situations.
Offload fixtures at St Helens will also feature input from OK TO ASK, a campaign which aims to break down the stigma of talking about suicide.
St Helens has one of the highest suicide rates in the UK – 75 people in the borough have taken their own lives in the last three years – and OK TO ASK focuses on the life-saving conversations anyone could have with someone thinking of suicide.
Liam Parker, Health Projects Manager at RL Cares, said: “Offload has a proven track-record of both changing and saving lives and we are delighted to have opportunity to deliver our programme to the people of St Helens.
“Over 1,000 men across the North West have already attended Offload fixtures and we know from the feedback they have given us what a positive difference it makes to the quality of not only their lives, but the lives of their families and the people around them.
“Working in partnership with Saints Community Development Foundation, St Helens Borough Council and the OK TO ASK campaign will enable us to continue that good work and empower more men to be able to cope, and talk comfortably, about important health issues.”
Chris Chamberlain, Project and Finance Manager at Saints Foundation, said: “After extensive consultation and understanding the local needs from across St Helens, it became evident that Offload would be great to support people within St Helens.
“Saints Foundation has been working hard behind the scenes with partners at the local authority and Rugby League Cares to bring Offload to St Helens. This is an extremely positive project which has worked well in other local areas and we are pleased to bring Offload to St Helens.”
Offload has already acquired national recognition for the successful way it has engaged men in what is traditionally a taboo health subject since it was launched in 2017.
Since then, Offload has made a positive impact on the lives of the men who have attended fixtures run at Salford Red Devils, Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings.
Earlier this month, Offload was nominated for a prestigious ‘Sport for Social Change Award’ at the 2019 British Journalist Sport Awards: the programme was also highly rated in an independent evaluation conducted by health experts at Edge Hill University.
That report found that men who have completed a set of Offload fixtures:
Offload fixtures at St Helens are aimed at men aged 16 and over, are free to attend and will take place at the Totally Wicked Stadium with dates and times in early 2020 to be confirmed.
For more information on Offload at St Helens, or to sign up to the programme, please contact Saints Community Development Foundation at email@example.com.