Warrnambool district football export and former AFL premiership player Wayne Schwass has made an emotional plea to governments to inject more money into mental health.WARRNAMBOOL district football export and former AFL premiership player Wayne Schwass has made an emotional plea to governments to inject more money into mental health.
Nanjing Night Net

Schwass, who started his senior career with South Warrnambool Football Netball Club before playing 282 AFL games (184 North Melbourne, 98 Sydney Swans) has admitted he suffered with depression for 11 years from 1993.

“I think it’s time for the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the state Premier Ted Baillieu to put more money into mental health,” Schwass told The Standard.

“We’ve got millions of dollars being put into the road toll, breast and prostate cancer and I agree with those things but I think more money should be put into mental illness.

“I think the Prime Minister should put on the table an agenda regarding mental health.

“Mental illness is a terrible thing. We’ve got one in five adults suffering from mental illness and I think there are seven people a day in Australia who commit suicide. Mental illness is being swept under the carpet by so many but it’s a problem which is not going to go away. Mental health is a quiet killer in our society.”

Schwass, who founded the Sunrise Foundation, which delivers preventative education programs addressing depression for young people aged between 12-24, said he regretted not speaking out about his challenges during his career.

He said he had only told two of his close teammates at the Kangaroos, Anthony Rock and Ian Fairley, that he had health problems.

“I was not ready to tell anyone about my health problems. I suppose I was a bit embarrassed to speak about my battle to beat depression. I thought if I told anyone I had depression they would think I was weak. It’s a terrible illness. I feel sorry for people in rural areas because I don’t think they get the full support they need to beat the mental health issues.

“I wasted six years of my life from 1993 to 1999 when I turned to alcohol to beat my depression problems. The alcohol only numbs the pain for a while once you wake up in the morning the problems are still there. The problems only compound with alcohol. We all make erratic decisions when we try and self medicate ourselves.”

An under 18 premiership player with South Warrnambool after playing his junior footy in the district league, Schwass gave the example of farmers that had committed suicide.

“Farmers are isolated. They are less connected with many sections of the community because they are busy trying to make a living on the land. They work seven days a week, starting early in the morning and finishing late at night. The farmer’s lives are dictated to by weather and increasing costs and not much of a return on their investment,” he said. “They get behind on their bank payments and other problems rise, the next minute the poor farmer thinks there is only one way out. Many of the suicides in Australia are committed by males — this is really alarming.”

Schwass, who played football at North Melbourne with Wayne Carey and Sydney with Tony Lockett — two of the biggest names in the AFL — said he was scared to play a bad game of football.

“I was petrified if I played a bad game but when I look back now football was not the most important thing — the thing that really matters is your health and well-being,” he said. “I think we are slowly making people more aware of mental illness. People must sum up the courage to put their hands up to admit they have health problems and issues.”

Schwass said the Sunrise Foundation, which now falls under the umbrella of Orygen Youth Health, has more than 5000 on its secondary school program.

“Orygen is getting some excellent results helping kids with mental health issues,” he said. “We’ve got to keep on helping people who suffer from mental illness whether they are kids or adults.”

South West Healthcare chief executive officer John Krygger said the annual budget for mental health services in the region was more than $14 million. “There is a big range of treatments available in this area for mental health,” Mr Krygger said. “We offer various forms of assistance for people that suffer with mental health issues. I think in our modern society we will have more people suffering from mental illness. One of the first issues which we’ve got to do is to get people to talk about their illness.”

A spokesman for the Minister for Mental Health Mary Wooldridge said the state government was committed to investing in services that best helped Victorians with mental illness, their families and their carers. “…the Coalition government‘s first budget included $100 million of new funding for mental health,” he said.

Anyone in need of support or considering harming themself can phone Lifeline 24 hours a day on 131 114.

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