You can hear a pin drop. This is clearly not what some of New Zealand's best teenage sporting talent expected to hear.

Many of these youngsters are on the verge of lucrative professional careers, so this should be an exciting time in their lives. After all, dreams are about to be realised.

But they are hearing about the other side of that opportunity ... the side that sees young players of their code take their own lives every year.

Looking around the room, hearing the collective intake of breath, you have to wonder if this is too heavy a subject for to tackle at this early stage of a sporting journey.


Of course, recent events tell us this is an issue that needs to be discussed more often across all sports and all walks of life.

This week, the death of former Wallabies lock Dan Vickerman, under "no suspicious circumstances" and at the age of 37, suggests it isn't just the young that are vulnerable to feelings of hopelessness.

Even the return to action of Warriors recruit Kieran Foran, who gave up a lucrative contract with Parramatta Eels to grapple with a perfect storm of personal problems last year, shows the depths professional sports stars can plumb during their darkest days.

At the start of their pathway, these young, hopeful players already face all the normal adolescent trials and tribulations - relationships, peer pressure, school, jobs, feelings of inadequacy in the big scary world ...

Some already have their own children to support at a very young age.

But many of these kids must also relocate to chase their prospects, so they will need to quickly find their feet in a foreign environment, without their traditional support network of family and friends.

Or, in some cases, their entire family may relocate with them, which just heightens the pressure on them to succeed.

On the field, they will face more competition than they've ever faced before and failure to rise to that challenge - or merely an ill-timed injury - could see the dream turn to dust.

And all this plays out in a public and media spotlight that these rookies are usually emotionally ill-equipped to handle.

These are the things rugby and rugby league in particular are trying to prepare their players for.

At the other end of the spectrum, as Vickerman highlighted to friends and former team-mates before his death, there is the struggle to adjust to retirement ... the loss of livelihood, public adoration and profound camaraderie that comes with top-level sports.

When your career ends through injury, as Vickerman's did in 2012, there's a sense that somehow you've been cheated of the fitting finale ... that the retirement decision, probably the most important any sportsperson has to face, was taken out of your hands.

Often, sporting wear-and-tear leaves deeper scars that are even harder to heal, as highlighted through the NZ Herald's series into links between rugby head injuries and dementia.

Perhaps Vickerman's tragic demise is another sign that more resource still needs to be directed towards this transition into the real world, perhaps through respective player associations.

Meanwhile, back in the auditorium, the wide-eyed teens are being addressed by Mike King, a comedian with a serious story to tell. He draws on a personal narrative as someone who has unthinkingly inflicted torment on others through mis-directed humour, while later suffering through the lows of his own alcohol and drug addiction.

"I remember when I told my friends I was an addict, I thought my boys would stick with me, but they all just got up and left," he tells his audience. "I had one mate who let me come and live in his garage."

The message - don't be afraid to talk about your problems and don't be afraid to listen when others reach out.

At the end of his address, King offers his own phone number to anyone who needs help.
His message has found its mark. The first text message arrives before he can even leave the room.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.