MENTAL illness continues to plague the South Coast, with the community reeling after the loss of a number of people to self-harm.
This is especially prevalent in sports clubs up and down the coast.
That's why Group Seven Rugby League thought it was vital to team up with the Mental Health Movement from this season.
A driving force behind this union is former Gerringong Lion and NRL star Ashton Sims, who works for the MHM now he's hung up the boots.
"The Mental Health Movement, Group Seven and Bluescope have teamed up to provide to provide mental health awareness education sessions to clubs all up and down the South Coast," Sims said.
"It's something very close to my heart as a born and bred Gerringong man who loves the Lions club.
"This gives me a chance to give back to the community and the sport that gave me so much in my life.
"It's a real honour and privilege to be able to be in this position."
Sims, who played 368 first grade games during his 17-year career, knows first-hand the struggles rugby league players experience.
"Seminars like this are vital for footy clubs," he said.
"The NRL is taking great steps with the State of Mind and other organisations like that and we're trying to do our bit too.
"Connection is the big thing we do in our workshops - it's not just us standing up there saying you need to do this and that.
"It's important participants come up with their own answers and are engaged, which helps with the retention of knowledge.
"The more we learn, the more we understand and the more we understand, the less we fear and the better choices we will make, not only managing our own mental health but also being that support option for people around us.
"When you look after your mental health, your emotional, your physical, your spiritual health work well all on the back of maintaining positive mental health.
"When we make it at the forefront of our minds, all our other aspects in our life will fall into place
"It's our family members, friends, work colleagues, loved ones and ones in our community groups such as rugby league clubs, which in a lot of instances, is the heartbeat of those towns, that we need to look after most."
He also acknowledges how hard the past 18 months has been on everyone.
"COVID-19 has hit and affected people in all different ways," the MHM consultant and facilitator said.
"To talk about the elephant in the room, we had seven suicides in seven weeks last year, which hurt us really bad - it pained me because it happened in my own backyard.
"At the Mental Health Movement, we're very proud to travel around Australia to help create, develop and maintain mentally healthy, supportive workplaces.
"We've monitored that and applied that into community groups' objectives, such as schools and sports groups and we're really looking forward to working with the people of the South Coast in the coming months."
Sims' team, which also includes former NRL players Dan Hunt (co-founder) and Chris Houston, have already conducted seminars in Group Seven this season, with plenty more already planned.
"We've broken it up into five hubs and already conducted two sessions - one up in the Highlands for Robertson and the Storm and another at Kiama for clubs such as the Knights, Lions, Superoos and Magpies," the 36-year-old said.
"They're been received really well and we're looking forward to delivering and facilitating more workshops.
"It's not one of those things where we come in, do the workshop and that's it.
"We talk about the mental health space and we're dedicated to providing ongoing support - as easy as it sounds, once you jump on board with us, you really are a part of our family."
One club that has been proactive on this topic is Jamberoo, thanks to a help group started by women's league tag player Georgia Thomas.
"After some really devastating news involving the community last year, we took some initiatives as a club," the 23-year-old said.
"I developed this wellness check-in, where, every Sunday, I would send out a check-in for everyone to complete - it was for players, coaches, anyone who was part of the club really.
"It was more about taking time to reflect on the week they've had and dealing with the feelings they were experiencing.
"It gave everyone a chance to reflect on what challenges they went through and how they overcame them while highlighting what things were positive about their week.
"The check-in also made people think about the week ahead, identify possible hardships that they might have to overcome and what establish strategies to help me mentally get through them.
"The most pleasing aspect, which came as a little bit of a surprise to me, was everyone bought in straight away because we didn't force anyone to participate.
"It was just an option for everyone who wanted to take control of their mental health.
"It wasn't about finding out everyone's individual problems or how they were dealing with things, rather taking a step back from their busy lives and sitting back and actually thinking about they are going."
Thomas was excited to hear about Group Seven's partnership with the Mental Health Movement.
"It's so important to have groups like the Mental Health Movement and figures such as Ashton working towards a common goal as us," said Thomas, who is proud of how intertwined her club has become recently, as both the men's and women's side are constantly supporting one another.
"Young people are going to see figures like Ashton and feel more comfortable opening about their mental health.
"They also bring a different approach to mental health than we have at the club, which is great to see.
"It also helps bring everyone together - while we all play for different clubs, we all have mental health and it's up to everyone to take initiative to look after themselves first and foremost, while also recognising how others are going."
Sims praised the Kevin Walsh Oval-based club for getting on the front foot with the topic.
"When we talk about rugby league and sport in general, people don't just play because of their competitive nature," Sims, who also credited the Jamberoo community for starting up their own Man Walk, said.
"They play it because of the camaraderie, the mateship, the brotherhood, the sisterhood and that's what I love what Georgia and her Jamberoo club are doing.
"They're being proactive in looking after the mental health of all the players, staff and their whole community.
"While we have started by working with rugby league clubs but we want to go through all clubs and community groups as best as we can.
"We want to reach as many people we can and help pass on that mental health literacy on how to look after our own mental health but also identify the signs and symptoms of people around us.
"It's important we continue to check in on one another and start the conversation, which will all put us in a better place."
If your community group would like to get in touch with the Mental Health Movement, please visit here.
Alternatively, numbers to call if you or anyone you know needs help are:
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36
- Headspace 1800 650 890
- QLife 1800 184 527