26 October 2020


All Black legend Keven Mealamu believes that masculinity is being redefined in a way that requires greater emotional muscle
Mental Health
When you become an All Black, a lot of things change. It’s a tough road. The expectation on you suddenly goes up. The public expects the All Blacks to win most of the time.
Handling those expectations creates pressure. You see things in the newspaper or on the news when you go home after training. You’ll go to the local dairy and people will bring up that line out you missed. Dealing with all that can feel overwhelming.
What you learn is that to handle those stressors you need to talk about them.  Otherwise when you face those moments of big pressure in a game, they become really hard to cope with.
You have to learn what relaxation looks and feels like as well. You need to be aware of the physical symptoms of stress when your hands get sweaty, you’re clenching your fists and feeling the tension in your shoulders. Doing some really simple things can help you relax like taking a couple of deep breaths with intent. You try to bring yourself into a headspace where you're not worrying about what other people think about you. Everything reduces to just you and the moment.
Twenty years ago, the conversation around mental health was different. Back then, people would just say “harden up”. Today we know that if you’re struggling with something it’s a lot better to share that burden with someone. You have to talk about it to let it go. But that realisation doesn’t happen overnight. You have to work through layers and layers of the way things have traditionally been done over the years.
Would I have been able to open up like that as 20-year-old? I probably wouldn't have the skillset to do that. With young people today, because they’re so into social media, that skill of being able to interact with other people and open up is perhaps even harder now. But we need to find ways to start the conversation. We need to find ways to get the ball rolling.
What does a strong Kiwi man look like to me? It’s someone that other people can lean on when they're going through a tough time. For me, it probably looks something like my dad or my brother. They’re the people I could always go to when I’m down in the pits. That's what strength looks like to me.
You don’t have to be mentally ill to go through ups and downs. You have good times and bad times. It’s not always the massive things that bring you down either. Sometimes the small things tag together – you run out of petrol or you’re worried about your kids - and a bad day turns into a really bad day. What I’ve learned to do in those situations is to ask myself whether or not I can control the situation. Because if I can’t control it then I shouldn't stress about it.
For me, being a good mate means understanding how your mate functions. Some of your mates will appreciate it when you're direct with them. Others you need to approach from a different angle. You need to figure out what makes them tick and adapt to what they need.
There used to be a rigid idea of what a man should look like. That he should be tough and not show emotion. But things change and we need to make sure that we change with those times. We're all at different levels with this stuff. But one of the best things we can all do is learn to share our problems. When we get things off our chests, we feel that weight come off our shoulders. Sometimes when you do that you’re able to take those things that have held you down for a long, long time and finally let them go.