Former All Blacks wing Nehe Milner-Skudder has opened up about going into "dark places" in what he described as "one of the toughest years" of his life.
Speaking at the opening of New Zealand's first Suicide Prevention Office as an ambassador for Headfirst, Milner-Skudder shared his personal experiences about the difficulties of dealing with the constant raft of injuries that have plagued him since he first burst onto the international scene four years ago.
The 28-year-old made his All Blacks debut in 2015 after barnstorming campaigns with Manawatu and the Hurricanes, and went on to play a starring role in New Zealand's World Cup victory that year.
Famous for his wicked sidestep, Milner-Skudder also claimed the inaugural World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award, but his budding career hit a standstill in the ensuing four years as constant injuries started to take its toll on the speedster.
After scoring eight tries in his first eight tests in 2015, the Taihape native only managed five more appearances for the All Blacks between 2016 and 2018, with his last outing coming during the All Blacks' 69-31 win over Japan in Tokyo last November.
A persistent shoulder has since thwarted his chances to taking to the field at all this year, meaning he didn't get another opportunity to play one last time for Manawatu, the Hurricanes or the All Blacks.
"For me, personally this has been one of the toughest years in my life, my career to date," he said on Wednesday.
"Some of you may have noticed I haven't taken the field at all this year, to not be able to do something or to do what you love doing… I really struggled.
"Out of all the injuries I've suffered, the many setbacks I've had in my career this was by far the hardest to digest."
"I'd built up in my head what this year was going to look like and I watched it shatter in pieces right in front of me and there was nothing I could do about it."
The 13-test star said despite finding way to help to deal with the issues he encountered, he "still felt myself going into some pretty dark places".
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"I started to get these negative thoughts about being judged, distancing myself from others out of fear of what they might think, how it'd be played out in the media. It all took its toll."
"Although I've gone through these challenging times, I know I'm way better equipped to cope and work through them.
"I know what it feels like to get down, but I also know I am one of the few extremely lucky and privilege to have the resources to help me."
Milner-Skudder said he wanted to ensure that others had access to the resources that have been available to him throughout his career.
"My rugby career has taught me we all feel pressure and anxiety and we all get down at times, it's easy to bottle things up, I've seen the negative effects that can have on myself and my teammates."
He described his role with Headfirst, an organisation which provides mental health help and wellness to rugby players, as "humbling".
"Through this work I've discovered a lot about myself, and also realised things need to change around the stigma around mental health, masculinity in society and rugby. Being part of that change has been bloody important to me."
"Many of the participants, many of my teammates have come from the most at risk demographic, young, male Maori and Pasifika."
"It breaks me saying that."
The inauguration of the Suicide Prevention Office, launched to help lower New Zealand's suicide rate, went alongside a community suicide prevention fund of $12 million for Maori and Pacific people.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202