A nurse-led campaign to tackle mental health problems affecting rugby league players has received NHS funding.

Nurse consultant Philip Cooper and nurse practitioner Carol Ede devised and now run a mental health education programme for rugby league players and officials.

The nurses work at 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which covers the heartland of rugby league – Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire.

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The programme has received £30,000 NHS funding to bring mental health education to 53 amateur clubs in the next 12 months. More than 700 players have already taken part in learning about topics such as anxiety and depression.

The sessions were initially provided for the top division of rugby players, but this year it is being run for the lower divisions in the run up to the 2012 Super League Grand Final on October 6.

The programme is part of the State of Mind campaign, which was set up at the beginning of last year in response to the death of international rugby league player Terry Newton in 2010.

His death created recognition of the need to promote ways to improve mental health among rugby league players. Official figures indicate that suicide rates in areas where rugby league is played are higher than those of the general populations.

Mr Cooper said: ‘We want to enable people to become mentally resilient. Most people switch off if you talk about mental illness so we are trying to talk about mental fitness rather than mental health.’

The project, which won this year’s Nursing Standard nurse awards mental health category, has received support from rugby professionals, including former England rugby league player Nick Fozzard and current super league player Richie Mathers.