Footy hero speaks out

Aussie Rules legend Wayne Schwass played 282 games at the elite level over more than 14 years. For more than 200 of those games and 10 years, he was suffering – silently – from depression and anxiety. He would find himself overcome by overwhelming sadness for no apparent reason, or crying in the car when stopped at the traffic lights. He associated crying with weakness and had no understanding of depression – so he said nothing and resorted to alcohol and drugs in an attempt to cope.

Research shows that boys are just as, if not more, emotionally expressive than girls until the age of eight or nine. At that stage, things seem to change, and Wayne believes this is because society expects something different from males. “I think this is causing men a lot of stress.”

Wayne didn’t tell even his closest mates about his depression for more than 12 years. When he did tell them (he was one of the first AFL players to speak openly about his experience with depression), it was a huge relief. “I spent so much of my adult life living according to the expectations that others had placed on me. I always worried about what people would think, say or do, if I was really authentically myself. I’m authentic now, and I’m happy and comfortable with the person that I’m becoming.”

This year, Wayne has launched a new social enterprise, PukaUp, with a vision to “create the environments for every person to have authentic and genuine conversations about mental health and emotional wellbeing”. He believes that the ripple effect through the community is “profound” when high-profile people speak openly about their experiences with depression – people like Osher Günsberg, Stephen Fry, Leisel Jones, Libby Trickett, Ian Thorpe, Barry Hall, Matthew Mitcham and Lauren Jackson.

Suicide prevention is part of the focus of PukaUp. According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics, a third of all deaths among males in the 15–19-year-old age group are by suicide. Many more lives are lost to suicide than in road fatalities.

As part of our ongoing commitment to the wellbeing of boys, we are running a seminar on depression and anxiety at which Wayne will speak. Sam Loy from Headspace, which runs a suicide prevention program in schools, will also present. Parents and secondary-aged sons are invited to hear the panellists and ask questions.


Free but please book here.