AFTER the most challenging year of his AFL career, Edenhope product Tom McDonald is hoping to shine a light on mental health at his junior football club.
McDonald will co-host a 'Tackle Your Feelings' workshop on Thursday night for Horsham District league club Edenhope-Apsley.
Other clubs in the region are also encouraged to attend the online event.
The "mental health training program" aims to help people involved at sporting clubs better understand mental health, and potentially equip them with the ability to recognise and act when someone needs support.
"It's not designed to turn coaches into psychologists," McDonald told the Mail-Times.
"It's just a basic overview for people to be mindful of, and how to keep an eye out for kids or adults that might be having issues.
"I'm really excited to be a part of it and to help at the club where I grew up playing."
After a tumultuous year, McDonald said it was a timely message.
Between an AFL hub in Queensland, a newborn daughter, and heavily scrutinised on-field performances, McDonald said 2020 had been the toughest season of his nine-year AFL career.
"Having a poor season on the field, coupled with moving away with a young child, this was the most stressful and mentally challenging season for me by far," he said.
"But at an AFL level, we have trained psychologists who are there to help.
"If I can convey to the kids or the guys playing at Edenhope-Apsley that it is normal to go through these emotions, and it is normal to reach out for help, that's important.
"Because if I put myself in their shoes, under-14s meant just as much to me as the AFL does now. So nobody is immune to these things."
Tackle Your Feelings program manager Nick Walsh said advocates such as Tom could help remove the stigma around mental health.
"A lot of young males don't want to talk about this type of stuff," he said.
"But if you've got someone like Tom, is very passionate about it and wanting to spread the message, and who is a bit of an idol for some of the people at the club, it can really help fuel the change."
The program was first rolled out in 2019 and has reached more than 200 community coaches across the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has since slowed the program, with meetings such as Thursday's moving from face-to-face to online.
Mr Walsh however said the COVID-19 pandemic made the message even more vital.
"With no community footy this year, that lack of identity and lack of purpose ... can be very difficult for the players and coaches," he said.
"The connections we build through footy clubs are so important.
"So we're hoping to try and teach people in these clubs how to approach a situation if they think something's wrong.
"A lot of of this stuff can be solved with a conversation - so it's about helping guys understand the signs and being ready to help however they can."
People can sign up for Thursday's conversation online at www.tackleyourfeelings.org.au.
The meeting will run from 6.30pm to 8pm.
Did you know you can receive updates straight to your inbox? To make sure you're up-to-date with news from across the region, sign up below.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.