Associate Professor David Pierce,
Dr Rosie Anderson,
Mr Nicholas Bamford,
Associate Professor Lisa Bourke
School of Rural Health, The University of Melbourne
Project completion year
The Coach the Coach (CTC) initiative was developed in response to suicides among young men in rural Victoria. The project aimed to boost awareness and knowledge of depression, anxiety and related disorders and support early help-seeking behaviour among young men in rural areas.
Coaches of local sports teams were viewed as influential and respected leaders by many young rural men. The project provided Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to coaches and other key figures linked with football and netball clubs.
CTC was undertaken in two phases: an initial phase involving one football league and a second involving four football/netball leagues. The second phase included 10 mental health information sessions held at locations throughout the project area, which were attended by more than 850 people. These events included a presentation about depression by a prominent sports-related individual and promoted the MHFA-trained club leaders as mental health resource contacts.
Evaluation of CTC was undertaken using questionnaires and focus groups to examine the development, implementation and impact of CTC on club leaders trained in MHFA, others associated with participating football/netball clubs and the local rural community associated with those clubs.
The evaluation project considered specific aspects of Coach the Coach Phases 1 and II (CTC1 and CTC2, respectively). The investigation used quantitative and qualitative methods to identify features of sports clubs and sports club leaders relevant to successful participation in mental health initiatives. It also reviewed of the role of CTC2 project officers and the mental health information sessions.
The evaluation of CTC1 found that local football clubs, especially in rural settings with the support of other community organisations, were an appropriate setting from which to develop rural mental health capacity to support young rural males. The combination of a passionate local champion of CTC and support from football clubs and an established community organisation for young people and families was found to be an effective driver for CTC.
CTC2 completed its key objectives – 126 sports club leaders from 48 rural football and/or netball clubs successfully completed MHFA training. Those trained showed a marked increase in confidence to help someone with a mental health disorder (p = 0.004). Almost one in five participants (18 per cent) were health professionals, teachers or law enforcement officers, any of whom may have contact with young adults experiencing mental illness. Many participants reported experience of mental health disorders, in themselves (28 per cent) or in a family member (49 per cent).
The evaluation of CTC2 found that female sports club leaders as well as male leaders may respond to such training. It also found that future mental health initiatives should be aware of the competing demands from a range of social initiatives on sports clubs, the potential influence of local suicide experience as a motivator for participation in mental health projects and the important role a project officer may be expected to play in projects similar to CTC2. Identification of key passionate local supporters may promote the success of future similar projects.
The characteristics of the mental health information sessions undertaken during CTC2 varied considerably. Similarly, a spectrum of views on the benefits of these sessions emerged from the evaluation.
Finally, the evaluation team noted an expectation among participants that the MHFA training of key club leaders would have a desirable mental health impact among the wider sports club membership. However, little evidence to support this expectation was found.
Implications for policy, practice and further research
The evaluation supports the view that local football and netball clubs, especially in rural areas, can be valuable settings for building mental health capacity, and may avoid duplication of limited community resources for this purpose. Future work may consider the role of metropolitan and other sports clubs in improving access to mental healthcare.
Training key individuals in rural sports clubs, while benefiting those individuals, may have less impact on the wider club memberships and local community than many may anticipate. Therefore, in future projects this issue of active and passive transfer of benefits (such as skills, confidence and effective help-seeking behaviours) should be specifically addressed and not assumed to occur. Based on the experience of this project, active measures may be required to ensure the maximum benefit from MHFA training is achieved.