|Jonny Wilkinson à l'entraînement avec le XV de la Rose. Prise le 12 août 2009. Jonny Wilkinson with English team training session in Twickenham stadium. 12 August 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
The issue was scrutinised at the International Rugby Players Association (IRPA) annual conference in Dublin last week, where a lack of awareness was highlighted.
IRPA executive director Nichol - the long-serving boss of the New Zealand Rugby Players Association - urged national unions to address mental illness with the same level of importance as physical health.
"Rugby is actually one of the better sports for this and in New Zealand there is good awareness about the potential impact of depression on our players, but it could still be better," Nichol told NZ Newswire.
"We got a good hearing from medical people and rugby administrators, who agree the environment could be better for our players to put their hands up and ask for help."
Nichol's presentation was supported by submissions from several leading current or former players who have battled depression, including England first five-eighth Jonny Wilkinson and Australian winger Clyde Rathbone.
A screening process to identify at-risk players should be introduced, says Nichol, who advocates the sharing of resources used to assess post-natal depression.
It is vital that players suffering feelings of despair or anxiety - which can manifest in the pressure-cooker environment of top-level sport - are aware of the importance of seeking help, he says.
An IRPA study found 43 per cent of players who retired due to injury experienced depression to some degree.
Nichol says professional New Zealand rugby players live in a bubble and often don't build networks beyond their team-mates.
An absence of education to help build emotional skills and long periods away from home can cause relationship problems.
Also, loss of income through injury or non-selection is a risk for every player while income levels fall away sharply upon retirement - which comes unexpectedly for nearly half of professional players'
© 2012 NZN, NZCity