Rugby star Austin Hay opens up on mental health battle sparked by being released

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Austin Hay appeared to have it all when on the books at London Irish and studying for a Sports Performance degree at Bath University.

But, in his final year at Uni, his world came tumbling down as his rugby club decided against offering Hay a new contract.

It sparked a mental health battle that, three years on, the now 24-year-old feels he is getting the better of.

It hasn't been without jumping some major hurdles, including overcoming thoughts of ending his own life.

Though speaking out in an Instagram video in 2020, and continuing to "be an ear" for others is helping Hay in his recovery.

"As someone who played rugby, and still does play rugby, and someone that is quite a big, masculine guy, I wanted to open up and let people know that it's alright to be like this," Hay told Daily Star Sport.

"It doesn't matter what your background is, it's fine to have mental health issues and speaking out can help.

"No matter who you are, speaking out and opening up, you feel vulnerable. It's quite a big step and it's tough to speak but it makes you feel so relieved.

"When I did speak out, I felt ten times better and more at ease because I knew I had people around me that cared."

Hay regularly keeps his social media followers updated on his feelings while also bossing it on the rugby pitch.

He now plays for Rosslyn Park, who sit top of National League 1 in the third-tier of English rugby union.

They have won 12 of their 14 matches this season with Hay influential in the club's quest for promotion.

For Hay, he continues to battle on and off the pitch though his team-mates have praised his courage with the prop bravely opening up on his previous struggles.

He added: "After uni I moved into London and started playing for a new club.

"In 2020, my long-term girlfriend split up with me which was upsetting and another trigger with my mental health.

"It was painful, someone who I thought loved me and I loved them, and that affected me badly. Then with Covid, and being isolated…

"I work in a special needs school, it's quite intense. Every day is a new challenge, every day is draining. I love working there but it's mentally draining.

"I had a long commute from Ascot to Wandsworth too. That's when another suicidal episode occurred.

"After that I wanted to speak out. I felt so s***, it was so bad what I was going through and I just didn't want to feel like that anymore.

"I was crying myself to sleep and crying on the way home. I turned to one of my mates and just text him asking if I can speak to him.

"He got me in contact with someone else that had gone through the same thing and it helped. I was glad I was doing it but other people should and I want to let others know that it's okay to speak out.

"It doesn't matter what size you are or what sport you play. We all have feelings and worries and you're not the only one."

Having been so close to the big time with London Irish, Hay is eager to get back to the echelons of rugby, though is set to miss some time with an injured thumb.

Though he's not letting that get him down and is focusing on small steps in all stages of his recovery.

"I've always enjoyed rugby, it's something I adore and it's been such a help," he said.

"The club I play for now is one of the most welcoming I've ever been to. When I wasn't playing I put on 10kg, which probably didn't help my mental health. When I knew the season was coming back, it helped me set a goal.

"I spoke to a friend who is struggling and reiterated that the fact he's woken up is a win. We don't appreciate what we've got.

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"It's very easy to compare yourself to others by looking at social media, but people generally only put out what they want to show. I saw my friends getting houses and doing well with jobs, and I struggled with it.

"I took a step back and just started to appreciate what I do have. Others don't have the same experience and same friendship groups. You don't need to worry about others. Everyone deems success in a different way.

"I feel people that are struggling don't understand how many people actually do care. I thought I may have got one or two messages when I opened up, but I got about 20.

"It may not seem a lot, but for me, that I got even one meant a lot. People do care."

If you or someone you know is struggling and needs to talk, call the free Samaritans helpline 24/7 on 116 123. You can also email [email protected] or find your local branch online.

  • Rugby union
  • Mental Health
  • Exclusives

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