Former AFL footballer Wayne Schwass told a packed Warrnambool fundraiser on Wednesday night he was able during his football career to cope with pressure on the football field but was “emotionally bankrupt” when handling pressure off the field.
Schwass, who played for North Melbourne and the Swans during his 14-year AFL career, said he was diagnosed with depression in 1993 but it was not until six years later that he sought help for the condition.
He said he self-medicated with alcohol and marijuana before he realised he had to seek help or his life would continue to be dominated by depression.
Schwass said he believed one of the reasons why he and many other men did not seek help when they knew they had mental problems was because they thought masculinity involved not asking for help.
That notion of masculinity, that involves men being strong and stoic and being considered weak if they asked for help, was “fundamentally flawed,” Schwass said.
Schwass, who grew up in Warrnambool, told of his journey to become a mental health advocate as part of a fund raiser for the local Let’s Talk mental health initiative that was launched last year by the Fitzgibbon family followed the suicide of family member, Sam, aged 21.
Since his retirement from football, Schwass has worked to raise awareness about the need for people to seek help with mental health problems, first through his Sunrise Foundation that has since been replaced by his PukaUp group.
He said PukaUp, derived from an Indian word for genuine, aimed to create environments where people could talk openly about mental health.
About 360 people attended the fund raiser at the Wannon Rooms on Wednesday night that was organised by the Silvan Ridge Foundation with the help of the Standing Tall Foundation mentoring group and sponsors.
Other speakers at the event were Sam Fitzgibbon’s mother, Jane, and St John of God mental health manager John Parkinson.
St John of God is among the partners in the Let’s Talk initiative.