Athletes committed to fight mental health issues in young people

​Four VIS athletes are joining the fight to help reduce rates of mental health issues in young children as part of a new community partnership between the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Black Dog Institute.

Four VIS athletes are joining the fight to help reduce rates of mental health issues in young children as part of a new community partnership between the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Black Dog Institute. 

On Monday, Olympian and Paralympian Milly Tapper (Table Tennis), Paralympian Mitch Gourley (Para-Alpine skiing) and hockey players Carly James and Nicola Hammond were announced as Mental Fitness Program Ambassadors. 

Designed to help young people manage their mental health and improve their general wellbeing, the Mental Fitness Program will see 27 current and former elite athletes assist in delivering mental wellbeing presentations, both in-person and online, at high schools throughout the country. 

In Australia, it is estimated that 1 in 5 people will experience symptoms of mental illness in any given year, and approximately 60% of those people won’t seek help. Over 75 per cent of mental health issues develop before the age of 25 which shows the importance of tackling the subject from an early age. 

Black Dog Institute Director and Chief Scientist Helen Christensen said the ability to bring sport and community together to teach meaningful life skills was needed now more than ever. 

“We are absolutely delighted to partner with the AIS to deliver the Mental Fitness Program in Australian high schools, at a city, state and national level,” said Ms Christensen. 

“Young people are more likely to take up mental health and wellbeing training if these programs are delivered by a person with whom they can resonate. The earlier these programs are offered, the more likely the effects will be long lasting.” 

The Mental Fitness Program is a unique offering that brings together two of the institute’s existing programs – the Mental Fitness Presentation and the Bite Back Mental Fitness Challenge. 

Research conducted by the Black Dog Institute revealed that almost 80 per cent of people say their mental health was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with visitors to doubling as people sought techniques to cope with anxiety and stress. 

AIS Director Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement Matti Clements said in these challenging times it is important young people have the skills to look after their mental wellbeing. 

“Like adults, young people can face numerous challenges in the modern world and the impacts of COVID19 on schooling and everyday life has added that extra layer of pressure,” said Ms Clements. 

“Now more than ever it is vital that young people are taught how to look after their mental wellbeing, and the AIS is thrilled to partner with a renowned research leader such as Black Dog Institute to deliver this critical program to high school students across Australia.” 

The Mental Fitness Program is one of three community engagement initiatives offered to Australian athletes by the AIS, alongside Lifeline Community Custodians and Share a Yarn.

For further information – visit or

Mental Fitness Program athlete ambassadors

Alyce Wood, Paddle Australia 
Andrew Edmondson, Wheelchair Rugby 
Belinda Maxworthy, Archery Australia 
Cam Crombie, Athletics Australia 
Carlee Beattie, Athletics Australia 
Carly James, Hockey Australia (VIS Athlete)
Declan Stacey, Diving 
Dylan Pietsch, Rugby Australia 
Georgie Rowe, Rowing Australia 
Gordon Allan, Cycling Australia 
Harry Garside, Boxing Australia 
Holly Takos, Cycling Australia 
Jaime Roberts, Paddle Australia 
Jennifer Tait, Volleyball Australia 
Jo Brigden-Jones, Paddle Australia 
Joshua Thornton, Bowls Australia 
Kaye Scott, Boxing Australia 
Kieran Woolley, Skate Australia 
Liam Twomey, Triathlon Australia 
Matthew Denny, Athletics Australia 
Melissa Tapper, Table Tennis Australia (VIS Athlete)
Mitchell Gourley, Snow Australia (VIS Athlete)
Nicola Hammond, Hockey Australia (VIS Athlete) 
Nikki Ayers, Rowing Australia 
Noemie Fox, Paddle Australia 
Olivia Vivian, Gymnastics Australia 
Rachel Tallent, Athlete Australia


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