Highlanders' Solomon Alaimalo speaks out on battle with depression, anxiety

Highlanders back Solomon Alaimalo has revealed his ongoing battle with depression and anxiety.

Since leaving the Chiefs last year, Alaimalo only featured once for his new club during their Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, missing all of the Trans-Tasman competition due to a shoulder injury.

The 25-year-old has admitted the injury was often used as a cover for mental issues which have plagued throughout his career and have worsened since stepping up into the professional realm.

"I had a lot of messages throughout the season asking "why are you not playing" and some I ignored and some I just said my shoulder still wasn’t right," Alaimao says in an Instagram post.

"But truth is I really struggled this year with depression and anxiety for multiple reasons.

"I've been going in and out of it for a while now growing up but ever since my joining of professional footy it got worse."

Alaiamalo confesses he's always been his own worst critic, but the harsh self-assessment of his performances had reached debilitating levels.

"[I was] always judging myself as a person off how I'd played, letting the game I love dictate my mood for the day and week until we’d get to play again in a constant cycle," he says.

"This obviously carried on for a while and I think a lot of my coaches throughout the years can attest to this, because it got to the point where no matter how well I played I'd be like 'nah I didn't play good enough'.

"My coaches would look at me like 'sole, you're too hard on yourself'. But if it was a bad game, my thoughts were so bad that I started thinking I didn't want to be around anymore."

That mindset had started to suck all of the joy out of playing, Alaimalo says.

"That’s when I started to see that I wasn’t getting that fulfilment and enjoyment from what I was doing ,

"Don't get me wrong though, whenever I’d suit up I always tried my best to put my best foot forward for the boys because I didn’t want to let them down.

"But I stopped getting that buzz ya get when you cross that white line because I was mentally drained from all the negative self talk I'd been feeding myself and the cycle I repeatedly kept going through."

After reaching breaking point, Alaimalo says he's now sought professional help for his issues, something he'd previously avoided.

"Looking back at [my shoulder injury] now, I wish I'd reached out and looked after my mental well-being more, but I was just too scared of being judged and thought 'am I being ungrateful', because I’m in such a good position and had my dream job.

"Finally this year all the bottled up emotions just finally tipped me over .The smallest thing would go wrong and I’d go home to my fiancé down buzzed as or phoning her from the car crying."

Alaimalo is the latest of several athletes to speak openly about their struggles with depression and anxiety due to the pressures of elite level sport.

In March, Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio revealed she'd been battling mental health issues, while world champion Zoe McBride decided to step away from rowing after developing an eating disorder.