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Squash star's mental health advocacy shaped by tragic loss

18 October 2023

Joseph White is a proud advocate for mental health but like too many, his journey has been fuelled by tragedy.

Jo White swings at squash ball, with opponent and crowd watching on.
Australian squash player and AIS Mental Fitness alumni Joseph White (left).

Mental health was never a concern for Australian squash player Joseph White until 2021, when everything changed with a heartbreaking phone call.

Tragically, the 26-year-old’s long-term friend and fellow squash player had passed away from suicide.

“I hadn’t seen it coming because he was the type of person who would fill a room with laughter and joy. I spoke to him the week before and nothing indicated he was struggling,” White said.

“It made me sit back, reflect and realise I need to check-in on my friends on a deeper level and also be more aware of where my own mental health is at.”

The Darwin local said being an ambassador for the program, which enables elite athletes to talk to high school students about mental health, helped him battle his own demons after missing out on the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

“Squash has always been something I loved but missing the Games turned it into something I absolutely hated. I didn’t want to get out of bed or pick up a racquet for four weeks.

“During that time, I did a mental fitness presentation on gratitude and one of the students said she was grateful to have a safe place to sleep that night – that moved me and put everything into perspective.

“I’ve never had to think about needing a safe spot to sleep and while it sucks I missed out on the Commonwealth Games, I know I will always have everything I need and I should be grateful for that.”

White stands in front of students sitting at tables presenting.
White presented a Mental Fitness session to high school students in the Northern Territory.

White also utilised the AIS Mental Health Referral Network while he was struggling and said he continued to use the practices learnt from his psychologist to maintain mental fitness.

“My psychologist suggested I focus on things outside of squash, so I started focusing more on university, working at a bike shop, and even started playing Ultimate Frisbee,” White said.

“I also use a meditation and affirmation script a few times per week and try to practice gratitude every day.”

White encouraged other athletes to share their own mental health stories to help those who might be suffering in silence.

“It's tough for athletes to openly come out and say that they're struggling. That’s why we need to destigmatise mental health by sharing our own experiences and applauding the bravery of those who do.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit the Black Dog Institute.

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