The Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) has expanded its #LiftTheWeight campaign after seeing a six-fold increase in the number of players accessing its confidential counselling service.

Lift The Weight was initially launched in February 2017, with nine players, including World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson, sharing their experiences of mental health.

The number of players using the association’s confidential 24/7 365-day-a-year counselling service rose by 600 per cent in the two months after the campaign was launched compared to the two months prior.

A record 58 players contacted the service during 2017. The most common reasons were depression, adjustment disorder and anxiety and stress.

Now, on the back of that success, the RPA has broadened Lift The Weight to encourage players to share their experiences of a range of personal topics, including race, religion, sexuality and identity.

Billy Vunipola (Saracens and England), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs and England), Topsy Ojo (London Irish and England), Heather Fisher (Gloucester-Hartpury and England), Kelly Brown (former Saracens and Scotland), Sam Stanley (former England 7s), and Mat Gilbert (Hartpury College) have shared their own personal stories for the campaign.

Damien Hopley, RPA Group chief executive, said: “We were blown away by the response to last year’s Lift the Weight campaign and I’ve been hugely encouraged to see how it has opened up conversations around mental health in the game.

“Rugby is the ultimate inclusive sport and we want all players to feel embraced and accepted for who they are, which is why we’ve launched this new campaign. I would like to pay tribute to the seven current and former members who have spoken about a range of personal subjects, from sexuality to religion.

“I am confident that by sharing their experiences, they are helping to nurture and create a truly inclusive environment where people are accepted for who they are. We want players to feel comfortable and confident in their own skin so that they can flourish on and off the field.”

Mental health

The new phase of the campaign came as a Professional Players’ Federation (PPF) survey of retired players revealed 62 per cent experienced some sort of mental health issue.

It found that 95 per cent of retired rugby players need a second career and almost 50 per cent had financial difficulty in the first five years.

The RPA offers transition support, financial management advice as well as a personal development programme for players, and its services are available for those who have retired.

Damian, a former player with Wasps, said: “I know from my own experience leaving the game that it can feel like a bereavement, so I am not surprised by some of the statistics, but understanding the issues players face is crucial to informing and focusing our work.

“We offer our members 24/7 support and run a broad-range of initiatives and programmes to ensure they are prepared emotionally and practically for the challenges they will face in retirement. The recent appointment of a full-time Transition Manager further underlines the RPA’s commitment to not only supporting members when they are still playing but also once they’ve hung up their boots. Without the players there is no game, so it is essential they are equipped to make a positive transition away from the sport.”

To speak to a BACP counsellor about depression, anxiety and stress visit our Find a Therapist directory.