As a nation, we love our sport. Not only does it entertain, but it also promotes healthy lifestyles, connects us socially and builds resilience. They are attributes that go hand-in-hand with good mental health. For Richmond Football Club – 13-time Australian Football League premiers – the ambition to connect physical and mental wellbeing is about more than just performance on the field; it is about helping the broader community to ‘thrive and win’.
Richmond Football Club is a multi-faceted business that works across sport, recreation, education, and health and wellbeing. Recognising that good mental health is critical to delivering positive outcomes across all these sectors, the Club’s education arm – Richmond Institute – established a partnership with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Australia. MHFA training is now embedded across the Club.
Damien Villarosa, Head of Education and Training at Richmond Football Club, and David Bastian, Education and Training Manager at Richmond Institute, are champions of the MHFA program, and have both become highly active MHFA Instructors.
MHFA across club and community
Given its diverse portfolio of community activities, Richmond needed a mental health training program that could be implemented across a range of varying audience groups from their players and staff, through to students and members of regional community sporting clubs. MHFA Australia’s flexible and skill-based training program met this need.
It is no surprise that high performance, high profile environments such as elite sport, can result in pressures that impact on mental health. Richmond Football Club found that staff and players were wanting to support each other’s mental wellbeing but were often unsure how and where to start. They saw a need to equip their people with the skills to recognise the signs of mental ill health, and to empower individuals with the confidence to reach out with peer-to-peer support.
When Richmond first began implementing MHFA training its focus was within the club itself. Senior players and club staff, including General Manager – Football, Neil Balme, were the first to complete the MHFA course. With a commitment from the top and positive results the program quickly became the cornerstone of Richmond’s mental health education strategy.
Since implementing the training within Richmond Football Club, Richmond Institute has expanded the club’s MHFA training to endeavours outside the club. Through its partnership with Swinburne University of Technology, MHFA training has been embedded into its Diploma of Sport (Sport Development)/Diploma of Leadership and Management, ensuring the next generation of sports leaders are equipped with mental health first aid skills. At a regional community level, MHFA training is reaching sports clubs through the local sporting connections of Richmond’s subsidiary organisation Aligned Leisure.
“Our purpose is to connect with community to help them thrive and win, and we know that good mental health is key to this,” says Damien Villarosa.
Kicking goals – results for mental health
For any workplace or group interested in improving the mental health understanding of staff and stakeholders or members, it can be difficult to know where to start and what training will fit. Richmond knew that they wanted a skill-based course that was focused on early intervention, underpinned by evidence and rigorous evaluation. They also needed a program with flexible delivery modes, and content that would suit a diverse audience across different locations and settings. They found all of this with MHFA.
The fit has become even more evident through the clear positive outcomes. At a club level, Richmond has seen an increased knowledge of mental health among its people and more thoughtful conversations between peers. As a workplace, managers are now better equipped to respond to the mental health needs of their teams. At a community level, participants have commented on their increased confidence and willingness to approach someone and initiate a mental health first aid conversation.
“Someone may take part in MHFA training through their workplace or sports club, but the beauty of mental health first aid is that the skills can then be applied in multiple settings. You never know when you may have a conversation with someone that may save a life,’ explains David.
“We have found that MHFA training has had a huge impact in helping breaking down barriers, building connected relationships, and giving people the confidence to have supportive conversations – whether that be with colleagues, friends or family”.
A big thanks to David Bastian and Damien Villarosa from Richmond Institute for taking the time to sit down with our Community Engagement team and share their MHFA journey and their experiences as MHFA Instructors.
Click on the videos below to hear their stories and learn more about the work of Richmond Institute and their commitment to MHFA training.
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