Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Jesse Aungles believes a new partnership between the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Paralympics Australia will assist para-athletes in overcoming some of the hidden barriers experienced in elite sport.
The partnership, announced to celebrate the International Day of People with Disability will see the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Paralympics Australia support the next generation of Paralympic champions by providing access to world-leaning mental health and wellbeing services.
A partnership applauded by Commonwealth Games Australia.
Para-athletes have made memorable contributions to the Commonwealth Games Movement in Australia, dating back to the Victoria 1994 Commonwealth Games where Para-athletics competitions were held as exhibition events, before Para-sport became fully integrated at the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games.
The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games is set for the largest-ever Para-sport program in Commonwealth Games history.
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Jesse Aungles believes the new partnership will be of significant benefit to para-athletes in Australia.
“People with a disability often have additional barriers or obstacles to overcome in their day to day life, but are also often some of the happiest people I know because they know how to overcome adversity,” Aungles said.
“A common misconception is that asking for support is a sign of weakness. I think having the self-awareness to seek a little bit of extra help when you need it shows incredible strength of character.”
The partnership will see the AIS Mental Health Referral Network (MHRN) become more accessible for emerging Paralympic pathway athletes.
The MHRN currently offers independent and confidential mental health and wellbeing support to more than 2500 categorised athletes, as well as alumni athletes, coaches and support staff. The service provides access to a team of dedicated experts who help connect those seeking support with one of 47 AIS-endorsed mental health practitioners.
The MHRN is the only high performance sport-specific mental health referral service available in the world, and AIS Director Matti Clements said it was pleasing to see the service continue to grow.
“Our ultimate aim is for every Australian athlete to be their very best in life as well as sport, and this partnership will ensure that more athletes will have access to the support they need, when they need it,” Clements said.
“We are excited to be working together with Paralympics Australia to make the Mental Health Referral Network accessible to more Para-athletes, from those first joining a national program all the way through to our Tokyo medal hopefuls.
“Since launching in 2018, the Mental Health Referral Network continues to adapt and expand to meet the needs of Australian sport, and with the support of partner organisations such as Paralympics Australia we can keep this momentum going.”
Paralympics Australia CEO Lynne Anderson said “At a time of much uncertainty, securing access to this vital mental health referral service for all elite Para-athletes, is a wonderful step towards ensuring an ongoing focus on the mental health and wellbeing of our athletes as they prepare for Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022 and beyond.”
The AIS launched the nation-wide mental health support service in late 2018 to provide specialised and timely support to the Australian high performance sport community. In just two years the service has grown from supporting 1000 athletes to more than 2500 athletes and expanded to include retired athletes, coaches and support staff. The services available have also been bolstered with increased specialist support from psychologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists and dieticians.
The partnership is part of the AIS’s ongoing commitment to supporting Australia’s Para-athletes. Since 2012, the AIS has increased funding to Paralympic sports by 40 per cent and in October announced an increase of more than $3million in funding to Paralympic sports for 2021/22, benefitting 13 sporting programs.
Commonwealth Games Australia continues to support young Para-athletes through the Kurt Fearnley Scholarship, a partnership between CGA and the Carbine Club of NSW, designed to support para-sport ‘future talent’ athletes based in NSW who receive limited support elsewhere and fast track their development to achieve success at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
The Kurt Fearnley Scholarship holders receive financial support up to $3750 based on their individual requirements, NSWIS program support up to $1000 including assistance with performance planning and access to the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) facilities, and most importantly, mentorship from the dual Commonwealth Games and three-time Paralympic gold medallist.
With thanks the Australian Institute of Sport and Paralympics Australia.