By India Lloyd
St George Illawarra Dragons player Dan Hunt has lent his support to the Global Challenges Recovery Camp, an initiative that provides support to people with mental health issues.
Hunt, who plays prop for the Dragons, attended an information session for the Recovery Camp at the University of Wollongong on May 8, and shared his experiences with mental illness with the camp participants.
The Recovery Camp, now in its second year, brings together 30 consumers dealing with mental health issues and 30 students in the fields of mental health nursing, dietetics, and psychology, academics, and a mental health nurse.
The group spends a week at the YCMA Camp Yarramundi, near Richmond, where they take part in physical activities, such as the flying fox, rock climbing, and tai chi, arts and crafts, and tell stories around the campfire.
It fosters a feeling of togetherness and enables the participants to interact without fear of judgment or without focusing on their symptoms, said Professor Lorna Moxham, a professor of mental health nursing and the Global Challenges Living Well, Longer leader, who organises and runs the camp.
The participants have a range of mental health issues, including schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, and eating disorders.
“Everybody has an active, integral, and valued role within the camp, regardless of gender, age or size,” said Professor Moxham.
Mental health is one of the key research areas of the Living Well, Longer challenge.
Only days before they headed off to camp, which was held from May 12 to May 16, the participants were thrilled to meet with Hunt, who told them that life in the spotlight could be hard on sportspeople.
Hunt, who made his first-grade debut for the Dragons in 2007, has seen the impact of mental illness during his time on and off the field, and said even those at the top of their game are not immune to the pressure.
“When you’re winning, you’re on top of the world, but when you lose, you don’t want to see anyone and everyone wants a piece of you. It can be really tough mentally,” said Hunt, who is the Dragons’ Mental Health Ambassador.
Hunt is passionate about raising awareness of the importance of mental health as he has seen members of his family struggle with depression and bipolar disorder.
“I have mental illness in my family so it is a cause that is close to my heart,” he said.
The participants relished the opportunity to chat with Hunt and share their own experiences of mental illness.
Hunt took the time to speak with all the participants, including camp ambassador ‘Daredevil’ Mick, so called because of his heroic achievements on the flying fox at last year’s camp, who joked that meeting Hunt encouraged him to rethink his NRL allegiance, from the Sydney Roosters to the Dragons.
Professor Moxham said mental illness affects all levels of society, and the camp was showed that those with mental health issues are not defined by their symptoms.
“The participants learn to appreciate each other’s personal journeys, to focus on each other’s strengths, and to find solutions to shared challenges,” Professor Moxham said.
“Getting money for mental illness is not all that easy, unfortunately, so it’s fantastic that organisations such as the Dragons are willing to show their support for this cause.
“We’re so thankful that Dan came along and shared his experience with mental illness, because it shows that mental health issues can affect everyone. Mental illness does not discriminate.”