The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Lifeline have partnered to launch the Lifeline Community Custodians program, including 21 AIS athletes from 13 different sports.
The program will see a combination of Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games athletes become advocates for mental health and positive community spirit, with the goal of reducing the stigma of mental health and promoting the positive contributions athletes and sport can make to their communities.
AIS Director of Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement, Matti Clements, said the team of Community Custodians would spend the next 12 months raising mental health awareness in their communities and their sports.
“At the AIS we know the positive influence sport and athletes have in their communities and the inspiration they provide, so this program is about spreading that positivity far and wide across Australia,” Clements said.
“A partnership with Lifeline is fantastic because these athletes will be attending community events, telling their own personal stories of resilience but also benefitting from personal development.
“The AIS wants athletes to be successful in sport and life, so this is also about enabling athletes to find balance beyond their sporting careers and giving them a meaningful opportunity to help others,” she said.
Lifeline Australia CEO, Colin Seery, said the organisation was proud to partner with the AIS and thanked the Community Custodians, who join a national movement of more than 10,000 Lifeline volunteers and 1,000 employees.
“When these athletes talk in support of Lifeline, they will be helping to reduce stigma and shape a more compassionate society, one that focuses on bringing people together and reducing isolation,” Seery said.
“In 2017, there were 3,128 lives lost to suicide in Australia, a nine per cent increase on the year before and one life lost every three hours.
“Every life taken is a son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister lost forever.
“Lifeline receives one million contacts every year to our national number, 13 11 14, and suicide prevention services.
“We are here because no person in Australia should have to face their darkest moments alone,” he said.
Australian Opals women’s basketball captain, Jenna O’Hea, will lead the team of Community Custodians, having lost her uncle to suicide last year and then initiating a Lifeline round in the Women’s National Basketball League.
“My uncle was 46, people often tend to put on a brave face, you don’t know what they’re going through,” O’Hea said.
“So just in our family, from this, we’re reaching out more and trying to have more open and honest conversations, which aren’t always easy.
“It is a strength, not a weakness, to ask for help and I think a lot of people are willing to help as long as you ask.
“I’m proud to be one of the inaugural Community Custodians and spread the valuable messages on behalf of Lifeline Australia, which is available for 24/7 support,” she said.
The program will allow athletes to share their own personal stories with mental health and get involved in community events supported by Lifeline around Australia.