State of Mind Co-Founder Malcolm Rae discusses why he started the Rugby League Mental Health Campaign

You couldn’t meet a nicer man in your community than Preston’s own Malcolm Rae.

The 70-year-old former mental health nurse was rewarded with an OBE for services to health care in 1996 but since his retirement, he has arguably gone on to greater things.

Rae was instrumental in the formation of State of Mind Sport, a rugby league charity that aims to raise awareness and prevent suicide in athletes and men in the wider community.

“Nursing and sport have a lot of similarities, working as part of community, being driven, mutual goals and clear targets,” Rae explained.

“So I have been able to transition easily from one environment to another.

“When I retired, I was keen to do something else but I didn’t expect I would be heavily involved in a suicide prevention charity.”

The catalyst in the creation of State of Mind Sport occurred in 2010 when Terry Newton, a former Wigan Warriors player, took his own life after he had been banned for taking human growth hormone.

Being a Warriors fan, it was a hard blow for Rae but he then realised that not enough was being done for rugby players in terms of their mental fitness.

However, it took his wife, Joyce, to point out that he should be the one to do something about it.

thumbnail_Malcolm photograph 2012

Rae is positive in his fight against mental health

He recalled: “The wife sat opposite me and said: ‘You should do something about this Malcolm.’

“She has regretted it ever since.”

He then penned an open letter to the League Express paper in an effort to stress the importance that Newton’s death must not go in vain.

“I wrote to the weekly rugby league paper saying I hoped the rugby league fraternity might learn from the ordeal,” said Rae.

“Two or three people contacted me who were health care professionals and fans of rugby.

“We said we would like to do something together but we were not sure what.

“All we knew was that our objective was and is to raise the profile of mental health, we say mental ‘fitness’ deliberately, because we want to use language that blokes will identify with.”

After attracting the attention of a number of other health care professionals to his cause, Rae was also able to get former teammates of Newton to back the fledgling campaign.

The impact of this was that the RFL began to take notice and soon after State of Mind Sport was formed.

Rae, who to this day works for free, feels that the addition of these two players help give the health initiative insight into the mental health requirements of rugby players, saying:

“Brian Carney and Terry O’Connor – teammates of Terry Newton- also joined us. They gave us lots of credibility both within the game and within the media initially.

“They helped us devise a programme for Super League Players which could effectively target the majority of mental health needs rugby players have.”

“We piloted it at Widnes and then we met with the RFL and the Chief Execs of each Super League club.

“We then embarked on undertaking mental health and wellness training for all Super League players.”

Over 19,000 people have received State of Mind’s Mental Health and Wellness training since 2011.

It helps to address the stereotype that men cannot share their feelings as not sharing is one of the first things that can lead a man into depression.

Rae revealed that this is a particularly prominent issue in the north of England, saying:

“I would say it is a Northern culture, men think it is a weakness to receive help particularly in sport.

“It is aimed at men because men are the hardest group to reach and two thirds of suicides are undertaken by men.

“There are more men under 45 that take their own life than people in road traffic accidents or substance misuse, so the issue is huge.”

As a result, State of Mind Sport have looked to find ways to allow men to feel secure enough to open up about their emotions.

To help combat the issue State of Mind aim to hold their events in non-biased locations such as universities, sports clubs and leisure centres.

“The aim is to get men into a non-stigmatising environment so they feel like opening up and not being judged,” he said.

“One of the greatest challenges we have is getting men to overcome that perception that it is a weakness.

“It is particularly important in rugby players because they can’t afford to show their opponents a weakness. Blokes will not ask for help.”

In six short years, Rae has helped State of Mind form partnerships with Sky, which has helped grow the brand, give mental health training to all Super League clubs and expand the campaign into rugby union and further afield in Ireland and Australia.

The campaign has received government recognition for the way it has been able to target and successfully address men.

“When Mrs. May, the new Prime Minister, made her first speech of the new year it was about mental health,” said Rae.

“It was combined with the launch of a new suicide prevention strategy targeted at men and paragraph 15 talks about State of Mind and we are now the exemplar for other sports.”

Despite the plaudits, Rae, although he is proud, is not satisfied with State of Mind Sport’s work and believes that the campaign can continue to make a great impact in the coming years.

“I’m not done yet and we have just tapped into the campaign’s potential and there is still more to do,” he said.

“I am driven to succeed because a huge number of people are still taking their own lives every year.

“This is a passion for me, the campaign’s plans for the near future are going to really make an impact and hopefully we can go some way to fulfilling our goal.

Rae has no plans of slowing down and will continue to plan an integral part in the direction of the campaign for the foreseeable future.

He reflected on what he has achieved so far, saying:

“It has surpassed all expectations because we had no idea what we were aiming for when we set off.

“I am so proud of all we have achieved but there is more to come.

“I see myself doing this for the foreseeable future and have a lot more to accomplish before I stop.”

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