Kyle Shepherdson speaks out on importance of mental health after quitting NRL program

Kyle Shepherdson with good mate Matthew Moon when they toured New Zealand as part of a representative team.
Kyle Shepherdson with good mate Matthew Moon when they toured New Zealand as part of a representative team.

Rugby league prodigy Kyle Shepherdson has shone a much-needed light on mental health in sport.

Twice selected for NRL team programs, Mr Shepherdson recently made the tough choice to walk away from the opportunity for the sake of his mental health.

"[At the] end of 2017 I moved to Sydney on a contract with Parramatta, zero friends and zero family," Mr Shepherdson shared in an Instagram post.

"This was my first time leaving home and moving to western Sydney from a little town like Tathra was always going to be a challenge for anyone. But chuck in the recent passing of Dad on top of everything it was always going to be extra hard."

He said he was well aware of the privilege of being part of the NRL development system, but there was "more to it than anyone thinks".

"This whole new environment that I had to try and get used to was just too much. I started having these dark feelings about myself and wanting to escape everything."

Telling himself "I can't be a failure" kept him going, but it also led to anxiety attacks on the way to training.

"I thought I didn't belong and I was a nobody who wasn't good enough," Mr Shepherdson said.

"I would go home and stay up until the early morning having suicidal thoughts. I never thought too far into it, but I thought this would solve all my problems.

"I never talked about it because I was ashamed of it. Ashamed because I have so many great mates and a family that would do anything for me, so how could I tell them?"

In December 2017 Mr Shepherdson pulled out of the Eels deal and returned home.

He played a full season with the Pambula-Merimbula Bulldogs where he shone at fullback and was among club's leading try scorers for the 2018 season.

However, more recently and just six months into a new development deal with the Canberra Raiders, Mr Shepherdson said he started to relive some familiar feelings.

"One week in, I thought it's happening again, I instantly had these self-worth feelings come back," he said.

"But I was talking about it, my brothers and my best mates. I would just talk to them about how I was feeling pretty much every day. I battled a lot of demons for six months and this time I just thought, it's not worth it.

"I know what the problem is and I can do something about it. And here I am back home, with a smile on my face."

Mr Shepherdson encouraged everyone to open up and eliminate the stigma around mental health.

"If anyone wants to speak out please just do it, you mean so much more to people then you can imagine. I got my boys always."

Mr Shepherdson said he was now wearing his real smile, not the fake one he felt burdened with before.

He still has a passion for rugby league and returned to the field recently with his home town Tathra Sea Eagles club, saying opportunities in the NRL were great, but the love of family and friends was infinitely more important.

The NRL itself partners with four major mental health providers in the Black Dog Institute, Headspace, Lifeline and Kids Helpline.

Contact details and further links for support are available through the code's major mental health program.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or otherwise in need of assistance, help is always available:

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