It ain’t weak to speak: Former Warrior Ali Lauiti’iti tells young rugby league players that speaking out is not a sign of weakness. Photo / Rendercreative
Rugby league legends Jerry Seuseu and Ali Lauiti’iti are tackling mental health in young Māori and Pacific Islanders head-on.
The two ex-NRL stars are ambassadors for the New Zealand Rugby League Wellbeing Programme.
They travel the country talking at grassroots rugby league clubs to players, friends, coaches and anyone who wants to participate in the It Ain’t Weak To Speak campaign.
Seuseu told the Herald when he was playing professional rugby league for the Warriors, Kiwis and in the UK for Wigan, asking for help to deal with mental health issues was frowned upon.
“We were basically told to harden up and do your best,” Seuseu recalls.
“It wasn’t very fashionable to talk about mental health and people had to deal with it quietly. Fortunately for Ali and myself, we had a good Christian upbringing and that certainly helped us in our careers.
“That’s what it was like back then, but we have moved on and we encourage our young people to use their voices and be heard.
“Our statistics tell us mental health [challenges are] everywhere and our youth are suffering the most. It’s no weakness to reach out if you are struggling and not in a good space.”
Having hung up their playing boots a few years ago, Seuseu and Lauiti’iti want to give back to the community that supported them throughout their long and illustrious careers. They both still live in and around South Auckland.
Seuseu played 209 matches – 37 for Counties-Manukau (1995-1996), 132 for the Warriors (1997-2004) and 40 in the UK Super League for the Wigan Warriors (2005-2006). He also represented Samoa four times in 2000 and the Kiwis 11 times, from 2001-2004.
Lauiti’iti was one of the most gifted players to ever pull on a Warriors or New Zealand rugby league jersey, because of his athleticism and skills.
He was a 115-game Warrior from 1998-2003, played 200 games for UK Super League club Leeds from 2004-2011 and also for Wakefield Trinity in 94 matches from 2012-2015.
Seuseu said communities face their own unique dilemmas but youth issues are not dissimilar around the motu (nation).
“We are finding that wherever we go to speak with youth, each area has its own unique issues.
“Our team spoke in Invercargill and the group wanted to talk about alcohol and driving, because they had a tragedy a few weeks prior involving teenagers,” Seuseu said.
“There was a group of 60 and all of them knew those involved and were trying to come to terms with the accident and make sense of their loss.
“We also spoke with a group from Manurewa and people told us they might be a difficult group. But we gave them the opportunity and they were real conversant on how they felt.”
Seuseu said giving teenagers coping strategies and mechanisms was a big part of the programme, and it was rewarding work.
“We get a lot out of doing this as well,” Seuseu said.
The NZRL and the Warriors are working alongside La Va, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) whose vision is to support whānau and communities for better health and wellbeing outcomes.
“In Auckland, the youth we speak to are more worried about their identity, social media and what is affecting them,” Seuseu said.
“Sometimes the conversations with youth are awkward but they have to be had.
“Ali and I try to talk with youth in a safe and engaging way, sometimes we use our PI humour, and that always brings a laugh,” Seuseu said.
Lauiti’iti said talking with youth about suicide was confronting but had to be discussed for the sake of our young people.
“We try to equip our youth with tools to deal with suicide, and although it is hard and confronting we have to speak about it,” Lauiti’iti said.
“But it’s also having the courage to step out and help out if you see one of your mates, or you, are not in the right space.”
In Auckland, 80 per cent of league players are Māori or Pasifika. Outside of Tāmaki Makaurau, 80 per cent of rugby league players are Māori.
WHERE TO GET HELP
If it is an emergency and you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
For counselling and support:
Lifeline: Call 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Need to talk? Call or text 1737
Depression helpline: Call 0800 111 757 or text 4202
For children and young people:
Youthline: Call 0800 376 633 or text 234
What’s Up: Call 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm) or webchat (11am to 10.30pm)
The Lowdown: Text 5626 or webchat
For help with specific issues:
Alcohol and Drug Helpline: Call 0800 787 797
Anxiety Helpline: Call 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)
OutLine: Call 0800 688 5463 (0800 OUTLINE) (6pm-9pm)
Safe to talk (sexual harm): Call 0800 044 334 or text 4334
All services are free and available 24/7 unless otherwise specified.
For more information and support, talk to your local doctor, hauora, community mental health team, or counselling service. The Mental Health Foundation has more helplines and service contacts on its website.