Paul Whatuira's message for people struggling with mental health

Former rugby league star Paul Whatuira says building self-confidence can be the key to beating depression and other mental illnesses.

The 37-year-old was a guest in The AM Show carpool, alongside Zoe Hawke from the Mental Health Foundation. During this segment, Aziz Al-Sa'afin takes two people to work in the morning.

Whatuira has always been open about his battles with the 'black dog', but took the time to speak about his personal struggle with depression during his days as a sportsman for Mental Health Awareness Week.

The two-time NRL premiership winner was on top of the world, but in 2009, he was admitted to a psychiatric ward in England after attacking two men. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and heavily medicated, effectively ending his league career.

Whatuira was not charged over the incident, after being deemed mentally ill.

"I had to rediscover myself, and build that self-confidence and that reconnection with family and people that are important to you, and having the awareness for living for today," explained the 16-test Kiwis player.

"I genuinely believe that your strength is for living in the now and you have to forgive yourself from the past - you can't bring it back. You have to focus on today and be grateful for the things you have."

Then-wife Vanessa was expecting their first child, which triggered memories of a sexual assault Whatuira suffered when he was just six.

"For me, it was a trigger and becoming a father triggered certain things that happened in my childhood. When you replay certain negative situations, you dwell on the past and that's how I became unwell.

"The healing for the things I went through was reconnection with my family, culture and being grateful what I have. Your wellbeing is important - it is important you exercise and do things that make you happy during the day."

Paul Whatuira's message for people struggling with mental health

He said if you see someone you know or anyone struggling, it's vital to help them.

"You have to ask the question and show that person your unconditional love, and push them in the direction of professional help and be there for them.

"We don't have all the answers, but it is important to listen, and be there for them by giving them the love and support they deserve." 

Where to find help and support:

  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)