What began in July 2018 as a hopeful trial run for a future statewide mental health round has bloomed into a nationwide awareness campaign in just three short years, with the NBL1 to highlight the importance of good mental health across all fixtures in its West and South competitions this weekend, June 25-27.

The brainchild of Rockingham Flames star Greg Hire and his A Stitch in Time foundation, NBL1 Mental Health Round comes after the Flames hosted the first mental health awareness game in 2018 and SBL-wide recognition with a dedicated round in 2019.

The campaign now finds itself on the national stage with teams from the NBL1 West and South competitions to wear orange socks to raise awareness for mental health and also raise funds for vital mental health services, such as Lifeline.

The subject has long been close to Hire’s heart, with both his brother diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a close friend attempting to take his own life in 2014, and he has successfully leveraged his standing as a four-time NBL championship winner and one of the Perth Wildcats’ most popular players to help normalise the topic of good mental health and raising awareness of the many mental health illnesses that afflict one in five Australians.

Speaking to the NBL1 Show ahead of this weekend’s round, Hire said he felt an “overwhelming sense of pride and joy” at seeing Mental Health Round becoming a nationwide initiative.

“It’s obviously something I’m passionate about and have been advocating the importance of for a number of years, even while I was playing NBL,” he said.

“To see something being implemented across the nation and across the NBL1 leagues, specifically here in Western Australia, there’s no doubt it’s quite special.

“The impact of basketball, and more specifically the communities and relationships that shares with mental health, is quite important so I think any platforms or initiatives or projects that normalise the conversations around mental health are quite pivotal.”

Greg Hire speaks following the 2019 SBL Mental Health Awareness Round game against Lakeside.

As well as the struggles of those around him, Hire has also drawn on his own experiences, from a turbulent childhood to coping with the adulation and expectations of Perth’s rabid basketball fans, in forming the foundational basis for A Stitch in Time and helping to spread the message that it’s okay to talk about mental illnesses and how to take the correct actions to combat them.

“Over the last 18 months with my own journey, retiring from the NBL and now reflecting on times of what I was dealing with and not being able to speak up because the perception is you’re mentally weak, to now in terms of what I’m trying to do…from six years ago [where you couldn’t talk about it for fear of being called mentally weak] to now having these conversations, we have these rounds and we have other initiatives,” he said.

“As I’ve got more and more immersed in that space and knowing the impact you can have is amazing… to know the impact and to change the way we see those discussions about mental health and educating on managing your wellbeing, how you can connect with others and what you can do in your own space.

“We need to make sure this is not just a day of recognition but something we think about 365 days of the year.”

The Flames have supported Hire and A Stitch in Time along this journey and are very proud of their part in helping to raise awareness and funds for mental health, and will again do their part by auctioning off this weekend’s game-worn players’ jerseys.

All proceeds raised will go to A Stitch in Time and you can make a bid on your favourite women’s and men’s players’ jersery until 6pm on Monday, June 28. You can also donate to Lifeline by texting ‘NBL1’ to 0488 822 250.

If you or anyone you know needs support and information contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Youth Focus on 6266 4333, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.