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Rugby star raising mental health awareness

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 5/04/2016 Darren Walton

When he's not throwing his weight around for the NSW Waratahs, Paddy Ryan is opening his arms to teammates in need of a hug.

Or at least lending a sympathetic ear as an ambassador for charity group Batyr, which attempts to "smash the stigma" of mental health and urges teenagers talk about the issue.

Having Ryan, all 120kg of him, in the front row at high schools and universities raising awareness, is the perfect fit.

"One of the most inspiring things about Paddy - and all the (NSW Super Rugby) guys - is that is really does just smash the perception about what it is to be a tough guy," Batyr chief executive Sam Refshauge said after the Waratahs promoted the One Sock, One Goal awareness campaign at training on Tuesday.

"That's what we are trying to do with a lot of those preconceived ideas, so it is actually seen as a strength when you put your hand up and say: 'Look, I am actually not going that well, or I need some support'.

"Getting someone like Paddy up in front of a group of year nine or year 10 boys who historically would never have a conversation like that because it is seen as a weakness, as soon as you put someone like that up there, next to a person who shares their story about what they've been through, it completely smashes that stigma.

"And it encourages young people to put their hand up as well."

In an average class of 30 students, Batyr says seven kids will deal with mental health issues but only two will seek support.

Ryan, also a senior Rugby Union Players' Association representative, is only too happy to try to help reduce the alarming amount of youngsters suffering in silence.

"Mental health is an issue that is close to my heart, it is close to my family and the opportunity arose to go and do a bit of stuff in schools," the prop said.

"It is an organisation I am proud to be part of.

"I am not trained to be able counsel anyone, and I sure as hell wouldn't say I am emotionally really good with that kind of stuff.

"But I am certainly not ashamed to ask a mate how they're going.

"That's all anyone needs to be able to do."

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