IN a sport where players are known for their courage, the story of North Fremantle’s Joshua Cunniffe is perhaps one of the most courageous of all. Joshua was only a teenager when he was diagnosed with depression, battling with anxiety, anger, sadness and isolation for years before he sought help to conqueror his demons, and now the teenager wants his experiences to help those in a similar place.
At 13 years old Joshua’s Grandfather tragically took his own life, the traumatic experience rocked his world and sent Joshua spiraling towards what he now knows was depression. For years he harbored a secret that was eating him inside, and it wasn’t until he was 15 years old that he opened up about what he was feeling.
“I had a fight with my parents one night and my best mate took me in. I spoke to him about it and then the next morning when my parents came to pick me up I confessed to them what I was going through” Joshua recalled.
That morning was the first and most important step on a long road to recovery. After years of suffering, Joshua shared the burden and realized that depression was not something he needs to battle alone, that he had a support network of family and friends by his side.
“I was scared and anxious about how they would react, how others would react. There was really no need for that,” he said “I wouldn’t be here without the support of friends and family and it’s really important people who are suffering have that support”
One of those support networks is the North Fremantle Amateur Football Club, a club Joshua has come to call his family.
“North Fremantle have been really impressive,” he said “there are always a ton of older guys around that are happy to go out of their way to help you if they can”
The club has proven to be a valuable support network for all their young players, not just Joshua, putting together a group of contacts for Colts players to call to talk to about football or life in general. Joshua believes the support provided from the club is a big help for anybody dealing with mental issues, whatever they may be.
“A football club, especially new clubs can be a very difficult place to integrate, to be yourself. Don’t be afraid to be yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help” the Lifeline WA Ambassador said.
Still only 19 years old, Joshua is a young leader at not only the North Fremantle, but in the wider community as well. He has written a book about his battle with depression, wanting to share his experiences with teenagers and young adults who are in a similar position.
“The book came about as I had a friend going through something similar and I wanted to share my experiences with others,” he said “I just want to help people in my situation and I’m happy to do anything to help as I understand how hard a place it can be.”
This weekend the WA Amateur Football League will be hosting a “One Life” round: an initiative to encourage people like Joshua to come forward and seek help for their illness. Each club will receive promotional material and a special “One Life” branded football, in hope of encouraging any player who is suffering mental health problems to seek help.
General Manager of Senior Metropolitan Community Football Cameron Agnew believes that the One Life program will have significant community benefit.
“Amateur football shares many similar philosophies with the addressing mental health, that being teamwork, communication and resilience.” Mr Agnew said
“The community football clubs are an ideal environment to talk about men’s mental health. Looking out for your teammates, helping them get back up, are all part of being a strong footballer and being responsible for your own mental health.
Joshua’s book is set to be released on 9th September and can be preordered through Roundhouse Press' website, www.roundhousepress.com