Like many rugby players that grace the rugby fields of Victoria, Maradona Farao is a tough, uncompromising competitor.
A Harlequins Rugby Club stalwart of the past decade, Maradona has been one of the standout Number 9’s in the Dewar Shield competition, which culminated in him being selected for the Melbourne Rising in 2015 and 2017, as well as being selected for the Melbourne Rebels in their exhibition match against Toyota in Japan.
Winning multiple premierships with Harlequins, the electric halfback was also named the Gary Gray award winner for the Melbourne Rising in 2015, an award that is given to the player that epitomises team spirit and being a leader on and off the field.
What his adoring team mates didn’t know was throughout this rise in Victorian Rugby, Maradona was struggling against an opponent tougher than any he had come up against on the Rugby field. Himself.
“I’ve suffered from depression for probably 5 to 10 years,” said Maradona.
“But I wasn’t aware that it was depression for the majority of that time.
“I just tried to suppress those feelings by doing things like partying.”
Maradona’s battle with depression was made more difficult during the 2017 Dewar Shield season.
“I had some major events occur in my life that made those feelings worse and made me question my existence,” said Maradona.
“I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t able to sleeping and I was losing a lot of weight.
“I wondered why I was here on this planet and at one point contemplated suicide.
“It was at that point I decided I had to speak to someone.”
Maradona decided on three people who he felt like he could talk to and confide in.
“Those three people were my Harlequins Coaches Leo (Taliu), Cliffy ( Viliamu) and Pom (Simona),” said Maradona.
“I said man this is what I’ve been going through and all three of them were shocked, they had no idea that I was feeling this way at the time, saying that I hid it so well.
“But as soon as I told them they were so supportive and I instantly felt a massive weight lift off my shoulders.
“I had a different buzz about myself and a confidence that I’d never had before”.
“Those initial conversations made such a big difference in my life and kind of began my journey to addressing my mental health”.
After these initial conversations Maradona sought out a psychologist who helped him define what he was feeling as depression.
Now having opened up to his coaches, Maradona felt like he needed to open up to his teammates.
“At the end of that 2017 Dewar Shield season our coaches Pom, Leo and Cliffy brought us all together in a room as a team to reflect not just about rugby but life and asked us to go around the room and talk about what we are grateful for,” said Maradona.
“Most of the chat was around rugby and then I stood up and told the boys what I was going through that year, that I was grateful for all their friendships and let them know that if they were going through any struggles that there are people in this room that they could reach out to including me.
“After we finished going around the room everyone came up and hugged me, said that they also didn’t know what I was going through and said thanks for speaking on that and sharing your story.”
Having opened up to his teammates, Maradona found that in the days, weeks and months ahead, his teammates were in constant contact, asking how he was going but also asking if they could speak about things going on in their own life.
“Since those conversations in 2017 I’ve been seeking professional help when I feel like I need to,” said Maradona.
“But the biggest help for me is continuing to talk to Pom and my other Rugby mates, some who have gone through something similar as well.
“Before I spoke to anyone about what I was going through I felt paralysed by my thoughts but as soon as I had those initial conversations it gave me a whole different view on life.”
Maradona has not only faced his mental health head on, he is now helping others do the same with the creation of his not-for-profit ‘Hope Road’.
“What I’m trying to do with hope road is to get down to the local Victorian Rugby Clubs and share my experiences with the players,” said Maradona.
“Because there is a big stigma, especially with men in a tough sport like rugby, that you’ve got to be strong and tough and can’t be vulnerable and ask for help.
“I want to let the boys know that you can be strong and tough on the Rugby field but off it you can be vulnerable and share your emotions and how you’re feeling with others.
“It’s ok to feel the way you’re feeling and there’s plenty of others out there who have felt the same way you feel.”
Through Hope Road, Maradona is looking to create awareness, start the conversations and then build a support network for rugby players who can lean on their mates and talk through anything that they want to discuss.
“My whole rugby experience allowed me to trust others around me on the field and off it,” said Maradona.
“There’s already a great support network there it’s just all about getting the conversation started in that environment and getting people to take that first step of opening up to people.
“The second element of Hope Road is called ‘Check In’s’, which is what it sounds like, checking in with your mates after having that first conversation, whether it be having a game of touch or going to grab a coffee, in a social way that’s not too direct or formal.”
Maradona’s advice to someone who may be going through a tough period in their life but haven’t spoken to anyone about it is that : “…you’re not alone.”
“Any thoughts or feelings that you are having, there’s a lot of guys that are going through the same thing, whether it be a team mate, work mate or family member.
“It’s ok to ask for help and once you start talking openly about the way you are feeling, it’s amazing how much relief and confidence you gain from having that one conversation.”
You can follow the great work Maradona does with Hope Road Here.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling to cope, there are people who care and are ready to listen. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au