Faced with injuries, subjected to stress, reluctant to talk about their anxiety: many professional rugby players suffer from depression , a scourge that the National Rugby League intends to combat with an action plan to better detect, treat and prevent this pathology .
“Rugby players do not always allow themselves to share their doubts and anxieties, even as the pressure of high-level sport intensifies,” summarized the president of the LNR medical commission Max Lafargue on Monday. of the presentation of this prevention program, an integral part of the LNR’s 2023-27 strategic plan.
This taboo can “lead to addictive practices and psychological suffering”, regretted Dr Lafargue, the president of the League evoking for his part a “very strong and priority axis”, as, in recent years, the speeches of players affected by mental health problems have multiplied. In February 2022, Toulon hooker Christopher Tolofua confided that he had “developed a form of depression” after rupturing his cruciate ligaments. A few months later, it was the right pillar of the French Stadium Paul Alo-Emile who spoke of a “heavy depression” which kept him away from the field for six months.
Break the silence
If these two players, like Pascal Papé or Mathieu Bastareaud, managed to break the silence around their psychological problems, some did not succeed. In January 2022, Rouen flyhalf Jordan Michallet committed suicide at the age of 29. In March 2022, his wife Noélie Michallet called for better psychological support for rugby players “to prevent this type of tragedy”, regretting that many players do not dare to talk about their psychological problems.
To achieve this, the LNR plan aims to facilitate “the detection and assessment of risks”, to “better identify and guide people in difficulty” and to “put in place prevention measures”. “Personally, this is an approach that is really close to my heart,” declared Mathieu Giudicelli, general director of Provale, the rugby players’ union, during the presentation of the plan: victim of a double lumbar hernia after a melee in March 2018, the former Biarritz pillar had himself gone through “quite complicated times” after being forced to abruptly end his career.
Since his arrival at Provale in 2019, Giudicelli has supported more than a hundred players suffering from psychological problems before collaborating with the NRL to develop the plan: “For me, it was not possible that a player could know what I had known,” he explained.
“A space of expression to verbalize this anxiety”
Among the six measures planned in this plan, a telephone line allowing club doctors to interact very quickly with a referring psychologist was put into service on Monday. In particular, this will be followed at the start of 2024 by the establishment of a harmonized protocol allowing club doctors to carry out psychological assessments, as well as the deployment of prevention actions among players and staff.
“The idea is to be able to offer a space of expression where players can verbalize this anxiety, this uneasiness,” added Sylvain Blanchard, medical director of Racing 92 and member of the health commission of the NRL . Until now, “we were not able to capture things, or at least in a very heterogeneous way from one club to another,” he lamented.
French international Grégory Aldritt sees this as a “very important” development in player support. “I have not been directly confronted with it (psychological problems) but we know that it is present. We must help all the clubs and the approach is very good,” said the man who agreed with his club not to play again before the start of 2024 to regenerate both physically and mentally at the end of the World Cup.