Justin Koschitzke: From AFL star to champion of rural mental health advocacy

  • Justin Koschitzke in the wheat field with tractors
    Justin Koschitzke on his family farm
  • Justin Koschitzke on the farm with a sheep
  • Justin Koschitzke in AFL uniform kicking
National Rural Health Alliance
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From the shining lights of our nations football fields to the rugged charm of rural New South Wales, one former AFL star has transitioned from sports stardom to a champion of mental health, driven by the formative years he spent in NSW farming communities. Justin Koschitzke’s journey is not just a tale of personal growth but of advocacy for mental wellness in the rural communities of Australia.

Growing up in the heart of NSW's agricultural belt, the future athlete was ingrained with values of hard work and resilience, staples of rural life that would later fuel his sports career. However, it was the silent struggles against mental health issues within these communities that marked his post-AFL mission.

"After retiring from AFL, I realized the profound impact my platform could have in giving back, particularly to support those grappling with mental health challenges," he reflects.

The Challenge of Rural Mental Health

Justin's advocacy helps shine a light on the stark contrast in mental health resource availability between urban and rural settings. "Rural areas face unique challenges such as significant isolation and a stigma around seeking mental health support. Additionally, the farming lifestyle brings with it uncertainties over weather and market conditions that can amplify stress and mental health issues," he explains.

In advocating for rural mental health & it’s challenges, Justin focuses on education, community engagement, and direct support:

Keynote Speaking: Justin tours the country, delivering talks that share his journey and offer practical advice tailored to rural lifestyles. He addresses the specific pressures faced by farming communities, including economic challenges and social isolation.

Workshops and Seminars: He runs workshops on critical issues like societal expectations on men to mask their emotions — referred to as 'male masks'. These sessions promote open discussions about mental health, aiming to dismantle harmful stigmas and foster emotional well-being.

Youth Support: Recognising the pivotal transition from boyhood to manhood, Justin emphasises support for young men, guiding them through their identity and societal pressures and advocating for a culture where vulnerability is acknowledged as a strength.

Practical Strategies for Rural Residents Hesitant to Seek Help

Addressing mental health in rural settings requires bespoke strategies that consider intrinsic lifestyle challenges. "Maintaining community connectivity can mitigate the isolation many rural inhabitants feel. Engaging in community activities and utilising technology to access telehealth are vital," Justin advises. He also suggests maintaining a routine that includes physical activity to reap mental and physical benefits.

"The stigma around mental health is a significant barrier in rural areas," Justin states. To those reluctant to seek help, he offers reassurance: "Seeking help is a sign of strength. Start by confiding in someone you trust and consider anonymous resources like hotlines or online forums."

For More Information:

Head on over to The Alliance social media pages to check out the work Justin did with us over Men's Health Week this year:

Instagram

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LinkedIn

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Explore Justin's journey and advocacy efforts further by visiting his website at justinkoschitzke.au. Here you can discover upcoming events, read his blog, or invite him to speak at your community event.

His transition from AFL stardom to mental health advocacy is a powerful example of using one's platform for the greater good, driving change one community at a time.

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