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FOCUS: Ex-Jersey Red breaks taboo around mental health in pro rugby

FOCUS: Ex-Jersey Red breaks taboo around mental health in pro rugby

Tuesday 30 May 2023

FOCUS: Ex-Jersey Red breaks taboo around mental health in pro rugby

Tuesday 30 May 2023

Rugby and mental health rarely come up in the same conversation – but one former Jersey Reds player who lost a friend to suicide is seeking to change that and "break the taboo".

Guy Thompson began his career with the Jersey Reds, before going on to play for top-level clubs like Wasps, Leicester Tigers, and Ealing Trailfinders. He returned to play with the Reds one last time in 2021.

"It was a tough time for everybody"

After a close friend passed away from suicide, in 2015 he became an ambassador for LooseHeadz, an organisation and clothing brand working to fight the stigma around mental health in rugby.

"It was a tough time for everybody in and around the sport at the time," Guys said. "I reached out to LooseHeadz and told them I thought what they were doing was incredible and asked if I could help out. To have an opportunity to help in my tiny way is really important."

The charity is seeking to place a mental health lead – a 'Loose Head' – into every rugby club around the world and give teams the resources to improve the mental wellbeing of people around them.

"They might struggle in silence"

Ambassadors like Guy are there to "break the taboo around this subject, around masculinity and mental health" by sharing real-life stories "about how a masculine rugby player, playing what is perceived to be a barbaric sport, can struggle as well".

"They might struggle in slightly different ways, and they might struggle in silence, but they have definitely been struggling for a number of years, since rugby went professional, and perhaps even before, but they had no outlet to talk to and nobody to understand them," he explained.


Pictured: Guy Thompson playing with Wasps.

He continued: "They probably didn't understand they were going through it themselves. Until somebody starts raising the awareness, somebody starts trying to break down this taboo subject and stigma that boys can't talk and boys don't struggle, then these boys and men will still suffer.

"I have seen a massive change in mental health as a whole throughout my career. When I was younger, I went through issues without understanding that they were even to do with mental health."

"Chipping away at you"

The rugby environment itself can also create pressure, Guy noted.

"In a rugby environment, when you're around 30 or 40 other men and the camaraderie, this big strong masculine environment, you then start going through anxiety when it comes to team selection, annual reviews, preparation for matches, media, crowds.

"All these areas of this professional environment, where you are designed to be peak at a weekend and be excellent in your sport, start chipping away at you."

He continued: "We understand that playing a sport for a living is lucky and we are thankful, but at the same time you do have to enjoy it and a lot of these areas would make boys doubt what they were doing, they wouldn't enjoy it, they couldn't get themselves up for games. These issues would start to take over their being and their performance."

Push for professional help

Guy is now calling for professional organisations and clubs to employ full-time psychologists.

"That would be a start," he said. "We're very early on a long road and I don't think it's a road that will ever end. The most important thing is people are talking about it, people are accepting it, and people are trying to help each other."


Guy spoke to Express for the latest Bailiwick Podcast about what challenges players can face during their careers, especially at a young age, and how he is helping to raise awareness that boys do cry – and that there are people who can help. Listen below or search 'Bailiwick Podcasts' with your favourite provider...

Pictured top and inset: Guy Thompson playing with the Reds in his final season (Sippa/Garry Bowden), and at the Siam Cup. (Dave Ferguson)

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