Cauliflower Ears and mental health

in Features/Sport Insight

Cauliflower Ears and mental health; how the Gibraltar Rugby Football Union (GRFU) is addressing mental health within its
membership and within the organisation.

All sports have a stereotypical image and Rugby has many to choose from, but the overriding narrative is that it’s a tough sport played by tough people.  At our domestic competitive level and above, that is superficially true – I’ll explain that statement later… But what does “tough” mean? 

Historically clubs and unions have focused on providing services that help promote and care for players physical health. We know that Rugby is a tough physical sport and at this point I’ll thank our hard-working physiotherapist, Joyce, for her sterling work in patching us all up, but for this up-and-coming season, the GRFU is putting into place a support network of trained mental health first aiders (Cauliflower Ears) to support its members, officers and the wider rugby family’s mental health, by recognising those that need help and offering information and sign posting to relevant services if required.

So, what does tough mean? In a rugby context, we generally talk about the physical demands of the game and the contact that is made when one player tackles another player, or two packs scrum down, however physical toughness does not automatically translate into a well-balanced, healthy mental frame of mind.  In fact, frequently physical toughness is often a façade used to hide behind or compensate for poor mental health.  We all have mental health (as we do physical) – some good some poor but we all have it.

Society is as a whole becoming more open in discussing our mental health, however the stark reality is that one of the highest causes of death in young men (our core membership) is still suicide.  Recognising this and its link to poor mental health, the Cauliflower Ears were formed and are a group of friendly, non-judgemental faces, that are there to listen and start a conversation, hopefully reducing the stigma of admitting you’re not well and need help.  It really is OK not to be OK – our Cauliflower Ears understand that and are happy to listen, whether that happens  in the clubhouse over a pint, or by the side of the training pitch or through a phone call, they are there to listen.

The Cauliflower Ear project was born after watching a programme on the TV that highlighted Prince’s Harry and William efforts to raise awareness of mental health issues amongst young men and implementation of support provided to football players.  This got me thinking and wondering what is being done for rugby players. 

Within the sport of Rugby in the UK there are several existing charities and initiatives across clubs and unions that provide players with help with their mental health (Looseheadz , Rugby Players Association – Restart and Lift the Weight Campaigns).  Once such initiative which offered a  potentially transferable solution was the Cauliflower Ear Programme run by the Lancashire Rugby Union (LRU). The LRU were providing a free professional counselling service to all members of constituent clubs within their union offering mental health and emotional well-being support. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, this was not an option for the GRFU, what was required was a low cost, low risk, reliable and resilient solution that could offer members information on mental health and well-being support.  Having considered various options and gained the support of Lancashire RFU to keep the Cauliflower Ears name as well as supporting artwork the GRFU settled on the option of providing a network of trained mental health first aiders (MHFA’s) across the union to support its membership.

The UK mental health charity Mind have designed mental health aid first training that equips  first aiders with the knowledge and skills to recognise those that may be struggling with their mental health and offer information and sign post to relevant mental health services if required, in Gibraltar this training is delivered by Clubhouse Gibraltar using the Mind framework.

The Cauliflower Ear project brief was submitted for approval to the GRFU, outlining the costs, commitments and outcomes, which was unanimously approved.  It was clear from the outset that we would need help to establish how the project was going to be delivered and a steering group was formed consisting of representatives from GibSams, Clubhouse Gibraltar and ChildLine.  This group met on various occasions acting as a sounding board, advisor and critical friend in helping us establish strengths, weaknesses, personal and organisational risk contained within delivery of such a  project.  We will be forever grateful for these organisations historical and ongoing support in our delivery of the Cauliflower Ear project and it is true to say  that we wouldn’t be in a position to deliver it without their help. 

We now have six “Cauliflower Ears” trained by Clubhouse Gibraltar that will operate across the GRFU.   We have also implemented supporting procedures and processes to help us manage and mitigate any potential personal and organisational risk in the delivery of the project.  As a small (personnel wise) and volunteer led organisation it is important to have safety nets and support networks to use if required by Cauliflower ears as we are acutely aware that it is essential to look after the people that are looking after our people.  Again our steering group partners have been instrumental in helping us to understand and plan for this as well as offering invaluable help and  resources should our Cauliflower ears need help, advice or a knowledgeable and confidential second opinion. 

We will be publicising the Cauliflower Ears across all normal platforms and hope to have an event highlighting mental health in the early part of the 2021-22 season, which we hope out steering group partners will attend.   Artwork from the Lancashire Rugby Union campaign will be regularly used to encourage everyone in the rugby family that’s its ok not to be OK and it’s important to talk about mental health.

The GRFU would like to say a BIG thank you to Gary Morgan – Rugby Safe Lead at the Lancashire RFU for supporting our use of the Cauliflower Ears name and artwork and our hugely supportive steering group partners Gibsams, Clubhouse Gibraltar and Childline for all their advice and support in getting this initiative off the ground.  We would also like to extend our thanks to the local company who has generously provided financial support to get this project off the ground.

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