Use varsity resources to tackle mental health issues

Universities have everything they need to help rugby players deal with mental health issues, according to a former SpeakUp campaign manager. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.

This year's Varsity Cup pink shorts campaign has aligned with Varsity Sports' SpeakUp to raise awareness of mental health issues. 

Cameron Peverett headed up the campaign for its first year and was pleased with what it achieved.

'We wanted to raise awareness of mental health issues,' he tells 'It takes time to put mechanisms in place, though, and to get people to speak up about something that is deeply personal and that, by nature, they don't want to be out in the open.'

In a recent survey conducted by MyPlayers, four in 10 South African professional rugby players indicated that they suffer from one or more symptoms of common mental disorders. They also said the subject would have to be made less taboo before players will open up about it.

'Players in that vulnerable position will speak up if you create a safe environment for them,' says Peverett. 'I don't think it's that difficult to do either. It just requires a change in mindset and an awareness of the fragility of someone's mental state.

'The issue ideally needs to be dealt with at an early stage, before it spirals into a bigger problem, and it can be if players know there's a support system – and a group of people – who can help and give them answers.

'By creating a safe space off the field, within the team setup, you put players in a position where they can deal with a mental issue and then move on with their rugby and personal lives,' he adds.

'A university is ideally suited for this, because it's got a student health facility, psychology lecturers on campus, PhD students, etc. You just have to restructure the facilities and human resources in such a way that they can support the well-being of an individual.'

Peverett says while the SpeakUp campaign has made a difference, there's still work to be done.

'I've chatted to club coaches and managers, who say conversations are now taking place about mental health. Coaches are now aware of mental health issues and can see when there's a bit of fragility in a player's mindset.

'Now, we need to emphasise the fact that this is something that can be tended to, that you can alter someone's thinking just by helping them to unpack it in a rational way. And the people who can do that are right on campus.'

Help centres at university campuses across South Africa:

University Website
Cape Peninsula University of Technology 
Central University of Technology
Nelson Mandela University 
North-West University
Rhodes University
Stellenbosch University
Tshwane University of Technology
University of Cape Town
University of Fort Hare
University of the Free State
University of Johannesburg
University of KwaZulu-Natal
University of Pretoria
University of the Western Cape
Walter Sisulu University 
Wits University


Other important and helpful resources:

Lifeline 24-hour crisis line: 0861-322-322

SADAG helpline: 0800-567-567 or send an SMS to 31393

World Health Organisation

SA Federation for Mental Health