'Being Kiwi blokes, we don't talk about stuff' - All Blacks legend Josh Kronfeld on men's mental health

Exposed to mostly male-dominated environments throughout his 10 years as a professional sportsman, ex-All Black Josh Kronfeld caught a glimpse of where men struggle with their health.       

"Being in a lot of male company, I realised how little we did towards looking after ourselves," he said.

"As you learn more and you understand more, it's about males getting together and saying, 'hey, we can do this better', but we have to talk about it, because as individuals and being a strong Kiwi bloke, we don't talk about stuff."

After his 56-match career, where he established himself as one of the world's premier openside flankers, Kronfeld worked on himself as a parent and husband. He also reset, so he could forge a new career in a new direction away from the pitch.

At 33, Kronfeld returned to university, hanging out with 18- to 21-year-olds in a whole different spectrum of life - a move he confessed was "a nutty thing to do". Reflecting upon his path, the Hawke's Bay native candidly revealed the pressures he'd faced since.

'Being Kiwi blokes, we don't talk about stuff' - All Blacks legend Josh Kronfeld on men's mental health
Photo credit: Getty Images.

"Sometimes, I feel like I am not achieving at the moment, I'm not feeling really comfortable where I am in my work world and I am thinking what's next?

"I enjoy my television - I love working with Crowd Goes Wild - but I'm not getting any younger and that's a young-person show. My timeline in television is ticking, so where do I go from there, what's next with that?

"Do I go hardcore on my physio or is there something else?"

Despite countless memorable wins through his storied All Blacks career, Kronfeld admits he still has moments where he questions the depth of his achievements.   

The 47-year-old has added his voice to a nationwide conversation on men's wellbeing, revealing his own experiences off the back of Movember to raise awareness of the physical and mental health of his fellow lads.

"My wife is always telling me that I should really realise how cool something really was that I have achieved in my life," Kronfeld told Newshub.

"There are lots of things, but as a male, it's hard to go, 'Oh, I did that, that's cool.'

"In 1996, we went across and had that tour win against South Africa. That was pretty special, but it became more special with time too - I didn't understand it in the moment."      

'Being Kiwi blokes, we don't talk about stuff' - All Blacks legend Josh Kronfeld on men's mental health
Photo credit: Getty Images.

Kronfeld said he was sheltered from the concept of mental health during his rugby years, only recently grasping a stronger understanding of the crisis New Zealand faces.

He didn't have any mental health issues, as far as he knew in the modern world.

"I had this really efficient compartmentalisation technique, where I could box things up and chuck them out, and not address them, which isn't necessarily a good thing, but it can also be quite helpful for getting through and getting jobs done.

"I think, through the likes of Sir John Kirwan and other individuals, we've come to understand how much it affects a lot of Kiwis. Even in our younger generation, in our kids, there's a massive affect that mental health plays, but I didn't understand it - I still don't understand it.

"I know when I'm getting grumpy with life and things aren't going right, I'll go for a surf and nine times out of 10, that's my fix and I am sorted for another couple of weeks.

"But that's not always the answer - I will vent to one of the boys and that's not always the answer."

That's "the thing" he came to realise.

"There's no real science, there's only platforms to how you can make some changes and you can make things better, and you change the chemical imbalance that's going on up here and you get back into the regular playing field, but that's the difference.

"I've never been in that dark, dark world, so I don't know how to deal with it. I don't know what the answer is and that's it - there aren't answers."

Throughout his career, Kronfeld couldn't recall many instances where his challenges were overwhelming, but discussed one experience where it could have come close.

"For most elite sportsman, when you have a major injury, the question is 'will you make it back from this?'

"Not all injuries are like that - they say, 'six weeks, you'll be back on', 'six months, you'll be back on', but some injuries, there is a question that the surgeon has to put out and you just don't know.

"I went through one of those and my surgeon, a year after or two years after, says to me, 'yeah, we weren't sure you were going to make it back from that one'.

"I'm thinking, 'I'm glad you never said that', because you circle things around, the 'what ifs', 'what do I need to do?' I guess that is the start of where some of the declines in mental health start to cut in."

'Being Kiwi blokes, we don't talk about stuff' - All Blacks legend Josh Kronfeld on men's mental health
Photo credit: Getty Images.

Men's groups of friends appear to decrease as they age, whereas women's are exponential.

That isn't right, he feels, because should anything go off-track, that's where the support is.

"That's the network that's going to help me get through stuff, if things go wrong - and I am that person with my friends. It's important to keep manicuring that and endorsing that and growing that, so we do keep that communication side of things in the forefront of the male mind."

His female counterparts, he understands, are better at finding solutions within their own groups, conversing and working together.

Whether it's "the staunchness or whatever", he says men just stand proud and take the hit, and "that's not good enough".

"It's just not right when a lot of these things can actually be prevented by a little check or a little word - 'hey, how's it going?' - and those things aren't done enough by Kiwi men.

"I am probably just as bad in some ways, and I tend to make it more about my peers and my friends, and taking the time to ask, but then on the flipside, I am probably just as bad."

'Being Kiwi blokes, we don't talk about stuff' - All Blacks legend Josh Kronfeld on men's mental health
Photo credit: Getty Images.

Kronfeld believes there's power in creating activities or things that can give some balance in life.

"Getting out and trying different things... my understanding is that's the hard thing for these individuals. They know that if they get out and do these things, they're going to be better, but the motivation and the drive and the inspiration to get involved in these things just bombs, and they can't drag them out of that.

"I guess part of the help package is that friendship base, that communication and taking the time, grabbing your mate out of his hovel and go for a surf and talk through some of these things. This is something we can all do better. 

"Just going from one environment into a new has a massive effect on an individual.

"This can have both a positive and negative affect, the key is in how you perceive the change.

"To me, change is as good as a holiday; where that newness fosters interest and excitement for discovery, in turn leads to a passion, and ultimately motivation and drive.

"Taking the time to share these moments with your mates can be contagious in fostering good mental health."

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