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 Kick Off...Mental Health for Rugby League

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Abuse is totally unacceptable! 




This is a particularly ‘unsavoury’ topic. Unfortunately it needs to be addressed and requires attention as a separate issue, despite its relationship to other illnesses, disorders & behaviours.   


There are basically two (2) areas of abuse that can be applied to the ‘definition of abuse’. 



Abuse refers to the use or treatment of something (a person, item, substance, concept, or vocabulary) that is seen as harmful. The term comes from the words "abnormal use". It can be used for anything ranging from the misuse of a piece of equipment to the severe maltreatment of a person. 


(1)                Material :- this applies to substances, money, possessions, privileges, position, status etc


(2)                Human:- this relates to that which is inflicted on other human beings. Other living

                                     creatures might also be included in this type of abuse.




There are consequences to the 1st type of abuse; to not only the abuser but also those directly & indirectly associated. Drug & Alcohol abuse, excessive gambling, excessive spending, expectation of favouritism & unreasonable ‘rights’ with respect to profile & distorted perception of one’s self & standing in society, property damage, disrespect of the laws and conventions of the day etc. These are types of abuse that serve no purpose other than sully the reputation of the abuser, potentially ruin their lives and result in untold ‘collateral’ damage to others. 


The 2nd is the focus of this section. Abuse can take many forms; physical, emotional, psychological & sexual. It is more prevalent than most would like to believe and is one of the most damaging and destructive of all experiences one might encounter or be subjected to. It is not restricted to any gender, socio-economic group, age etc. 


The consequences of abuse are ‘far reaching’. Not only does it potentially destroy the lives of the ‘victim’, it also impacts severely on those directly & indirectly associated. 


The perpetrators of ‘abuse’ may or may not know they are abusing. They may feel it is ‘normal’. This may be the result of their own past experiences and the manner in which they were ‘raised’, or it may be based on internal drives, impulses, thoughts, beliefs that are expressed through ‘abuse’. It may also be the result of cognitive impairment through injury, congenital defect, illness etc. The latter refers to the individual’s impaired capacity to truly appreciate the consequences or reality of their behaviour. 


In some ways, it is irrelevant to spend excessive time determining the reasons for the abuser’s behaviour, given that the focus should be on the victim and ‘breaking the cycle’ of abuse. 


The truly saddest and most devastating age groups to experience abuse are those involving children & adolescents. 





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 Please click here for ABC transcript of interview with Peter's wife Siobhan

Abuse always has consequences. The ramifications of the abuse will vary according to the individual and the circumstances involved, though there can never be a positive experience or effect as a result. The degree of damage caused is the primary issue. Many victims of abuse have had their lives destroyed as a result; be it physically, emotionally, psychologically and/or socially. In some instances, all four (4) aspects are involved. Many have developed or utilize coping strategies & defence mechanisms so entrenched that they require lengthy & intense interventional treatment therapies &, even then, there is no guarantee of success. 


Some examples of the manifestations of abuse or illnesses to which it is a major contributing factor are:




·          Personality Disorders – particularly the Borderline type 

·          Chronic Depression 

·          Anxiety Disorders & phobias 

·          Bipolar Disorder 

·          Drug &  Alcohol Abuse 

·          Homelessness 

·          Crime & Violence 

·          Suicide 

·          Post Traumatic Distress Disorder 

·          Sexual & Gender Identity Issues




Probably the most significant consequence of abuse is that of ‘extremes’. From either end of the spectrum – psychologically, socially, emotionally & behaviourally. 


Each of the extremes is enlisted by the ‘victim’ and developed in response to the abuse and as a means of coping, protection, false comfort, retaliation and/or defence. 


Social effects are commonplace, as is behaviour. A person with a history of abuse may withdraw and become suspicious & fearful of others or they may become gregarious, outgoing extroverted people tending toward the mania exhibited in Bipolar Disorder. Recurrent or chronic depression, self harming, risk taking behaviours and often para-suicide & failed suicide attempts. 


Extremes of emotions are often seen, along with difficulties in establishing, maintaining & valuing relationships. Psychotic symptoms have been reported and the development of disabling and chronic mental illness is not uncommon. 


Perhaps the most tragic of all the consequences of abuse is the possibility that the cycle of abuse continues. There is evidence to suggest that those who have had the injustice of abuse directed toward them can often develop into perpetrators of abuse themselves. As such, the need for intervention & serious treatment is essential if we as a society are to move toward the eradication of this most sinister & destructive act. 


Punitive measures for the abuser are of course necessary and I for one am not suggesting that rehabilitation or extensive counselling is an alternative or even a successful adjunct to incarceration and it is certainly not an area to which I wish to devote time here. The victim of abuse, however, needs all the resources available and optimum professional treatment for their dreadful experiences. We have a better chance to meet the needs of the victim and society at large, if we can provide adequate intervention and a pro-active approach. 


Unfortunately abuse continues with account after account being noted in the media and passing through our court system. Most of us are left shocked, horrified, angered and mystified as to how & why this could occur. What has happened is that the heightened public awareness, via the media and reflected in our laws, of the problem has inhibited parents from executing their responsibilities with respect to discipline & boundary setting for fear of retribution. As a sensible & sophisticated culture, one would hope that commonsense would prevail & people’s earnest attempt to somehow rationalize abuse in their own minds by indiscriminate reporting of ‘supposed’ abuse, would be taken realistically and not overly emotively. 


There needs to be a balance. Children need boundaries; they need discipline; they need to know they are loved and protected; they need to know and be comforted by these factors. Society sets boundaries & applies discipline for its citizens, yet as parents we are dissuaded from this course. Lost in this entire battle regarding abuse are the needs of the child. Pro active & preemptive is far better than reactive & retrospective. 


Life is not easy, nor is the world an easy place to live. Without the necessary tools for life, we run the risk of ‘falling by the wayside’ or being consumed & ‘lost’. I am not an advocate for any particular type of discipline or boundary setting, nor am I fence sitting or conversely siding with any particular belief regarding method or type of discipline. Each individual is different, each child is different. Basic needs are the same at a rudimentary level though the means by which these basic needs are met can vary. 


If we go back to the definition of ‘abuse’ one can see why there are so many different & opposing viewpoints regarding the issue. I would suggest that there are very clear guidelines regarding sexual abuse and aspects of physical abuse. Emotional & psychological are a little vaguer. The recipient of purported ‘abuse’ and the initial & early effects noted is the most effective way of establishing if indeed they have been subjected to abuse. 


A simple guideline to any form of discipline proposed is the response of the child for whom it is intended. Similarly, there needs to be a graduated process in any form of discipline or boundary setting. To apply a ‘heavy handed’ approach initially is not the wisest move. You will most probably achieve the desired result, though out of fear, distress and anxiety. Anyone can control another, particularly the vulnerable, by means of fear & intimidation. Is it humane; is it in the best interests of the recipient; is it your feelings, emotions, ideas, beliefs, personal history etc. that guides you to this action or has it been well thought out, sensible, practical & caring? Be careful not to tread the path of abuse in an effort to provide guidance for those under your care. As I stated before, many abusers do not even know they are abusing. 


Given the serious effects & consequences of abuse, it would be foolish to dismiss or treat lightly the subject of discipline & boundary setting and the manner in which we choose to implement them. 


The other type of abuse, not generally covered, is that of witnessed abuse. This is abuse that is directed elsewhere and is a kind of ‘collateral’ or ‘secondary’ abuse. For example, the child that witnesses a violent father physically assaulting his/her mother, yet never behaves that way to them. Abuse in this scenario can also be of a verbal or sexual nature. It instills fear & apprehension in the child and feelings of powerlessness & insecurity. 


Relationship abuse


As Rugby League players, Coaches, Administrators etc. you need to be aware of the prevalence & effects of abuse. As with the tragic case of Peter Jackson, sometimes you will never know. What you end up with are the illnesses, disorders, personalities, drug & alcohol abuse, antisocial behaviour. Having knowledge of the reality of abuse and a willingness to make yourselves available to help those with mental health issues, you may ultimately uncover evidence of past abuse. From that point, steps can be taken to have the issue addressed. 


Similarly, active abuse may be occurring within your club. Whether it is players, coaches or other staff or volunteers, the essential need to protect the victim & direct the abuser to the appropriate professional for help. Should the abuse you become privy to be of a serious &/or grossly illegal nature, you have responsibility to take immediate action and report it to the necessary authorities. There must be a zero tolerance indicated by the clubs. 


Within the arena of Junior Rugby League, the coaches & those who are actively involved with the young players must provide sound role modeling and display appropriate behaviours. The realm of Junior League is a major area of a young player’s life and plays a significant role in their overall development. Abusive conduct should never be allowed to be witnessed by young players and they should never be subject to this type of behaviour. Standards for all associated with Juniors should be as exemplary as possible. You are part of the growth and development of these young people, just as are parents, peers & schools. They look to you for guidance within the framework of the game – be it on the field, during training or personally. The responsibility is great, but the rewards can be greater.






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