Scotland rugby star Rory Sutherland speaks out about mental health struggles to encourage others to take advantage of new course

Scotland rugby star Rory Sutherland has told of his struggle with depression and anxiety.

Thursday, 18th March 2021, 6:48 pm
Rory Sutherland on the ball for Scotland against Wales on October 31, 2020, in Llanelli (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

That mental turmoil was compounded by not even realising at the time that he was either depressed or anxious, the 28-year-old admits.

Former Hawick player Sutherland has spoken out about those troubled times, prompted by a career-threatening groin injury five years ago, to encourage others involved in the game to take advantage of a new mental wellbeing online course launched by Scottish Rugby.That free e-learning course – made up of a series of modules, questions and case studies – is intended to help kick any remaining stigma about mental health issues into touch to encourage those needing help to seek it out.

It also points users in the direction of organisations able to help them such as Breathing Space.

Sutherland only realised what it was he was up against mentally, as well as having to recover from a bilateral adductor reconstruction physically, after a chance meeting and chat with former Edinburgh team-mate Ben Atiga, now Scottish Rugby’s player liaison officer, at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium so he’s glad to see help now being made more readily available.

The loosehead prop, set to pick up his 15th cap against Italy in the Six Nations this Saturday, March 20, says the new course is “a huge stepping stone” in encouraging players to talk openly about mental wellbeing rather than regarding it as a taboo subject.

“I think it’s extremely important that everyone learns about mental wellbeing,” said Sutherland, with Hawick at youth level and for the 2011-12 season as a senior and at Gala from 2013 to 2014 before moving on to current club Edinburgh.

“For a lot of people, there is maybe that perception that rugby players are big tough guys with no problems, but everyone has their issues, and a lot of people maybe don’t know how to identify their feelings as being related to their mental wellbeing, how to deal with those feelings or who to turn to.

“I think this course will lay a great foundation for young players and others in the rugby community to learn how to do all that.”

Sutherland’s experiences of depression and anxiety were sparked by the injury he sustained in autumn 2016 during a warm-up ahead of a game for Edinburgh against Harlequins, putting what was then a fledgling international career on hold and leaving him confined to bed at home in Lauder for a month and housebound for another two after that.

“When I was out from injury, I didn’t understand that the feelings I was experiencing when I woke up every day were depression and anxiety,” he recalls.

“It wasn’t until I had a conversation with Ben Atiga that I was able to understand what was going on.

“Being able to speak to someone like Benny, who had knowledge of wellbeing, really helped me process my feelings, and I was able to start setting myself goals to come back from that difficult time.

“The fact young players can now take Scottish Rugby’s course will definitely help them to make sense of any negative feelings they have and help people talk to others within their rugby circles more comfortably.

“I can say first-hand that it is OK not to be OK. Don’t be afraid of your feelings.

“Wellbeing is of the utmost importance because if you feel good, you’ll perform well in other aspects of your life.”

Scottish Rugby created the new course in collaboration with health experts including its chief medical officer James Robson and Hampden Sports Clinic’s Katy Robson, as well as the Scottish Football Association as it recently put together a similar course for coaches.

Neil Graham, head of training and education at Scottish Rugby, said: “The subject of mental health and wellbeing has become more dominant in the mainstream media in recent years, even more so as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“Although the course is not about training participants to be a counsellor or therapist, we believe that it will support the development and understanding of what we mean by mental health and what they can do to create a supportive environment for their team-mate or coach experiencing problems with their mental wellbeing.

“I hope that everyone who takes the course finds it useful and gains new-found confidence in discussing and providing support in a challenging area.”