Rising Warriors program to tackle Indigenous mental health
BUNDJALUNG Baygal Warriors Rugby League Football Club is an integral part of the Northern Rivers Indigenous community, but their newest program is the most important yet.
The Rising Warriors program, led by members of the club in conjunction with Headspace Grafton, is looking to tackle mental health issues among Indigenous youth.
Indigenous Australians aged 15 to 24 years are among the highest for suicide rates in the country (39.4 per 100,000), much higher than the national rate for young people (10.7 per 100,000), and program organiser Levi Caldwell is hoping to make a difference.
"Suicide is a big issue in Indigenous communities across the Northern Rivers and North Coast regions," Caldwell said.
"This is a mental health program using rugby league as a platform to connect with kids from Coffs Harbour all the way up to the Northern Rivers."
Mudyala Aboriginal Corporation is also on board with the initiative and manager Aneika Kapeen said it was an issue that can come about at any age.
"The focus is on the youth and trying to change their methods of dealing with mental health," Kapeen said.
"It's about preventing self harm and giving them an avenue, such as NRL or rugby league, as a foundation to connect.
"The program will incorporate community elders and invite them to talk about their experiences. They'll also link them back to their cultural roots.
"It's about standing up and trying to fight this issue. I know a lot of young boys feel marginalised when they talk about their feelings. It's not weak to speak."
The program will initially target 16 to 25 year olds and Caldwell is raring to go but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a delay to their opening sessions.
"We haven't started yet due to COVID, but we'll try do our first one in Grafton over the coming months. There have been extensions and changes in the program but we're not losing anything. It's just a waiting game," he said.
"With Group 2 seniors called off it will be important as ever. We'll be inviting elders and NRL football players up to talk about ways to attack mental health and wellness of young guys around the district."
Among NRL players involved will be Bundjalung Baygal Warriors and South Sydney Rabbitohs star Cody Walker.
"It's great to have guys like Cody on board. Even just having their support towards the program and the corporation is huge, we can't thank them enough," Caldwell said.
Mudyala Aboriginal Corporation teamed up with Headspace Grafton to auction off special Indigenous boots and a jersey from South Sydney Rabbitohs stars last week, with proceeds going towards the Rising Warriors fund.
Caldwell hoped the first session could be run in September, but is patiently waiting for the opportunity to get stuck in when it is safe for all.
"We'll go ahead with our first program. We had a look at doing it this month but Sydney is not too stable at the moment. We have to be careful with group sizes," he said.
"It's hard to hold, even outdoors. We're looking at September for our first run in Grafton. If not we're on the sidelines until we get the all clear."