New Orleans Gold flank Vince Jobo has encouraged rugby players to speak about their mental vulnerabilities as he opens up about his own battle against depression. DYLAN JACK reports.
South Africans will most likely remember Jobo from the University of Cape Town team that won the Varsity Cup in a dramatic final against North-West University in 2014.
Since then, he has had stints at the Cheetahs and Southern Kings, before deciding to embark on a new adventure by moving to the United States and signing for NOLA Gold in the growing Major League Rugby tournament.
Unfortunately, he has endured a frustrating run of injuries recently, tearing his achilles tendon before breaking his arm in his first game back from the injury.
In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with SARugbymag.co.za, Jobo also admits that he has struggled mentally during this time. As he explains, admitting to his depression and taking the step to start helping himself was not easy.
‘It was hard. I think I was in denial. Back home, South Africans are traditionally hard. I knew I needed to see somebody, but I was still in denial. I thought I was OK and that I could just get over this. That is the mentality back home. A lot of things have happened in my life that I am still holding on to and it affected me. It affected my performance and had a negative influence on my daily life.
‘My girlfriend suggested that I go see somebody. I said to her, “No, I am OK, I am fine” and she actually called somebody. She called mental health people to come to the house and come get me because she could see how depressed I was. I needed that push and she gave me that push. So I went and signed up. I start this week and will be in the institute for 30 days.’
Rugby is a hard game that – traditionally – has not made too much time for vulnerability or caring for a player’s mental health. Jobo says that while things are slowly starting to change in this regard, there is still a stigma over showing mental vulnerability in the game.
‘I think it is starting to change, but it is still there. They still see you as a p***y, sorry to say that. They see you as not being hard enough or as a weakness. Whereby it really is not. As I have got older, I have realised that it really is not.
‘A lot of players are going through it, especially in South Africa. It is things off the field that you really need to talk to somebody about. If something is bothering you, you need to talk about it, instead of keeping it in. That’s what weighs you down in your performance, in your relationships with people. Eventually people think you are an asshole or a dick, but in reality this guy is suffering. He is reacting but because he doesn’t want to be seen socially as weak, he holds it in. It literally destroys every good thing you have.
‘In the black community in South Africa, our parents were always about tough love but they never showed affection and love. That was my problem. After I lost my mom, I was alone. My dad was there but he wasn’t there. He never came to watch me play, he’s never been to a game of mine. He never told me that he loves me and never given me a kiss. Those are things that I crave. I would see my white friends with their dads always at the games, giving them hugs and kisses and I thought, that is what I want.
‘Especially the African community, we need to, our fathers and parents – it isn’t all of them – but they need to show affection. It is OK to hug your son and tell him you love him. It is OK to kiss your son on the lips.’
Jobo urges players who are going through a similar struggle to open up and speak to somebody.
‘There are players who are going through the same struggle. I get inboxes every day on Instagram and Facebook, from people reaching out to me going through the same thing, thanking me for opening up, wanting to do the same. That is when I realised that there are so many of us out there that are carrying a lot of things and want to talk about it. They lost their parents or failed at university. Whatever it is, there is something that affects them. If it doesn’t affect them now, it will affect them later.
‘It is better at a young age to be vulnerable. I feel like this is something we need to teach youngsters, that it is OK to be vulnerable. I just want to encourage the players to just be vulnerable. It is OK to be vulnerable and to speak to somebody.
‘If you are in need of help, don’t try to do things by yourself because that never works. Reach out, go and talk to somebody, even if you don’t go and see a therapist or psychologist. Talk to a friend, talk to a coach, talk to a family member. It is very important to find peace and be content with life. That just takes a lot of weight off your shoulders.’
If you are in distress, the following helplines are available in South Africa:
- Lifeline – 0861 322 322
- Suicide Crisis line – 0800 567 567
- SADAG Mental Health line – 011 234 4837
Photo: Craig Boudreaux