• Investec Super Rugby 'Bubble Round' to raise awareness of mental fitness
  • NZR wellbeing programme Headfirst celebrates a successful first year
  • All Blacks star Nehe Milner-Skudder becomes Headfirst ambassador

New Zealand Rugby is dedicating this week’s Investec Super Rugby round to raising awareness about the importance of being mentally fit for tough times.

The ‘Bubble Round’ comes a year after the launch of Headfirst, NZR’s wellbeing programme, which encourages people to talk more openly and develop strategies to deal with life's ups and downs.

NZR Education and Wellbeing Manager, Dr Nathan Price, said the 2018 campaign emphasises the importance of developing mental fitness alongside addressing mental health problems.

“Being mentally fit means different things to different people, but for most it’s about being equipped to handle life’s ups and downs, adapting to change, and achieving your goals. It’s about having fit minds for tough times, and our ambassadors will be leading the charge on this.”

The Bubble Round kicks off this Friday, 13 April at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, when the Hurricanes play the Chiefs and Highlanders fans will have the chance to be involved the following night when their team play the Brumbies at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

Fans in Wellington and Dunedin will get the chance to play their part by having their photo taken inside a giant bubble. Players from each of New Zealand’s Super Rugby clubs will also be stepping up for the campaign to share their own experiences of mental health and fitness via their team’s social media channels.

Leading the way is new Headfirst ambassador Nehe Milner-Skudder, who joins former All Black Keven Mealamu and Black Ferns Sevens star Ruby Tui in putting his weight behind the initiative.

Milner-Skudder’s involvement was driven by the sobering statistics around mental health and suicide in New Zealand, particularly among Maori and Pasifika youth.

“The stats really hit a nerve with me and hopefully by talking about things myself and sharing some tips on how I deal with stress I can encourage others to do the same. I’m stoked to be getting in behind Headfirst and supporting the work they’re doing to make a positive difference to people’s lives.

“Everyone goes through tough times and rugby players are no different. The key is talking about things and realising that being mentally fit is just as important as being physically fit. If Headfirst can raise awareness of the importance of mental fitness and share some tips and strategies to help people cope with their ups and downs, then I think it can continue to make a real difference.”

As Headfirst celebrates its one-year anniversary, Dr Price said the programme delivered significant and tangible results.

“Since we launched in March 2017, the Headfirst website has attracted almost 14,000 visitors, with 5,000 people engaging with the self-tests for anxiety or depression, which is a great result. We want to widen the scope and make a bigger impact.

“Tackling mental health is an ongoing task and NZ Rugby and Headfirst are here to make a long-term difference. Things have only just begun, and we’re excited to see what the year ahead will bring as we explore new partnerships and innovative ways to raise awareness and make a meaningful difference to improving mental health and wellbeing,” Dr Price said.