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Newcastle Knights forward Tariq Sims is one of 14 State of Mind ambassadors appointed by the NRL to increase awareness around mental health - one of the country's biggest health issues.

The engagement of elite players is critical in bringing a different attitude to the way mental health is addressed within the community.

"I've known people throughout my life who have battled mental illness, and with my profile I'd like to think I could shine some light on mental illness," Sims said.

"It's something we don't really talk about and we should be talking about it. You do need to talk to someone and explain things because it does help when you open up.

"It's a very touchy subject but we need to start talking about it."

Mental illness affects one in two people nationally. Rugby league is in a unique position to have a positive impact on mental health by using its profile and players to lead discussion, connect people and help break the silence on what can be a life-threatening matter.

"When I was just cracking first grade I had a good start to the year but towards the end I ended up breaking my leg. Being a 21-year-old I thought I was indestructible and had the world at my feet, but then it was taken away from me," Sims said.

"The worst thing I did was hide in my house. But I had a good support network around me. I said to my mum 'I need you to come up and help me out a little bit'. She flew up and helped me out. I had a good support network up at the Cowboys. Glenn Murphy helped me out a lot. He was our fitness trainer and gave me a lot of drive to get back to where I was.

"I got back to where I wanted to be, played a couple of games and then unfortunately broke it again. That was a pretty tough time. I just felt like I wanted to be by myself and not talk to anyone. Nothing was making me happy. I just wanted to sit inside, go to sleep, wake up. 

"But my friends and family – my support network, didn't let me down. One of my close friends suggested I go talk to someone and that I seek professional help. That was life changing as I was really struggling. That was the best thing that happened. I was able to open up to someone who knew what I was talking about. It helped me rediscover my passion for football.

The State of Mind Ambassadors, who are current NRL squad members, volunteered for the roles because they wanted to make a difference in the area of mental health.

The nomination process took into account; reputation both on and off the field, a desire to contribute to the mental wellness of the community, participation in education in a relevant field and a willingness and capacity to participate in activities outside the club football schedule.

"I said to myself that I'd love to help to shine a light on mental health and State of Mind came along," Sims said.

All ambassadors will receive Mental Health First Aid training and qualifications, training and support to be able to deliver a mental health program designed by the Black Dog Institute, the opportunity to give back to their community in a meaningful way and become a leader in mental health awareness within their clubs.

The NRL is in coalition with Lifeline, Kids Helpline, Headspace and the Black Dog Institute to implement a number of new initiatives.

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