By Sam Watson
THIS weekend, the Gippsland League was supposed to be hosting their mental health round.
The round aimed to raise awareness around mental health issues and the impact it has on the community.
But the state lockdown has meant the league will have to reschedule the event once again, or possibly cancel it.
Someone who knows a bit about spreading mental health awareness is Leongatha’s Ben Willis.
This year, the two-time premiership Parrot has decided to wear a blue helmet in every game to spread awareness and raise funds for Beyond Blue.
And it’s not just Willis rocking the blue lid at the Parrots.
Every week, a different player in the reserves wears it and it’s the same in the under 18s, who Willis coaches.
Willis said the mental battles he’s seen youngsters go through inspired him to start the ‘Beyond the Blue Lid Initiative’.
“Seeing a lot of young people affected by depression got me going the most,” Willis said.
“I wanted to do something small to try and cheer a couple of people up or get people to go and see someone or even just have a chat about it.”
“It’s pretty rare if you come across someone that doesn’t know someone that’s affected by depression, so I’ve got a pretty broad target audience.”
“I’ve seen a few of the boys I coach go through some pretty tough times so if we can do things to avoid that from happening again it’ll be great.”
And he said the initiative has been received well amongst Leongatha and even other clubs.
“I’ve had a couple of really good conversations about it, it’s been really good, everyone seems to get around it and it’s been fun for them as well, which is great.”
“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me on the footy field, and generally they’ll ask me if I’ve had a head knock first but now the word’s starting to spread to other clubs too.”
And the ruckman said he’s also received a bit of feedback from over the fence.
“Sometimes I hear someone give me a bit of slack about wearing a blue helmet from the sidelines, then not long after someone will generally correct them.”
“That’s the conversation starter right there, which is the whole point, so it seems to be working a bit.”
Willis admitted he’s had a few issues with the comfort of the headgear so far.
“I make sure I wear it when we warm up because it does affect your hearing and you definitely get a bit hotter,” Willis said.
“It’s not too bad on the cold days.”
“Early on we had a couple of hot days and I’m a bit of a sweater as it is so that didn’t help that cause.”
And he said some of his long haired under 18s players have enjoyed the helmet’s ability to keep their hair out of their face.
Willis, who is nearing his 150th game for the Parrots, said he’s loved coaching the under 18s this year.
“It’s been great, they’re a funny bunch, we’ve got a lot of characters,” Willis said.
“I’ve never come across a bad crew of young lads at Leongatha, they’re all just good kids and really easy to coach.”
“And they look after each other which is great.”
Willis said he was stoked the league decided to host a mental health awareness round.
Unfortunately, it has been postponed once again but Willis hopes the league can find another round to hold it.
So far, the Trafalgar local has raised over $1100 for Beyond Blue, but he also has two big money jars in the club rooms that he’ll collect at the end of the year.
And he also plans on auctioning his blue helmet at the end of the year to raise a bit more money for the cause.
If you want to donate to Willis’ cause, head to fundraise.beyondblue.org.au/beyondthebluelid.