Kilmore Racing Club general manager Ben Murphy, venue manager Emily Milwain and former AFL star and mental health advocate Wayne Schwass.

Former AFL star and mental health advocate Wayne Schwass gave an engaging, honest and, at times, funny, presentation at Kilmore Trackside last week.

The North Melbourne premiership player and best and fairest award-winner retired in 2002 and has since become a strong advocate for mental health awareness.

He also founded Puka Up, which aims to create environments for every person to have authentic and genuine conversations about mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Mr Schwass urged people to take care of their mental health, like they would any other health concern.

“Don’t wait until you get unwell – invest in your mental health now,” Mr Schwass told the invitation-only crowd on Wednesday night.

He paid tribute to the many men in the audience, who not only listened but actively participated in the discussion.

Ms Schwass spoke with honesty about his own mental health battles, which were not properly addressed during his playing career because he didn’t have the confidence and was fearful about telling most people.

“We need to change the way we talk about mental health and take ownership of our health,” he said.

He said he never referred to people ‘suffering’ a mental health ‘illness’, rather they were managing their mental health condition.

Mr Schwass gave advice about people having a ‘tool box’ to manage mental health, adding to it and accessing it regularly.

“You wouldn’t not service your car so why ignore your own mental health,” he said.

“Ask yourself this: why haven’t I started investing in my mental health? Why am I fearful and what are the barriers? And what can I do to start?”

Ms Schwass recommended paying attention to sleep and diet – food, fluid, content such as media and social media, and relationships as a starting point.

He also recommended hugs to emotionally reconnect to people.

“Offering hugs isn’t going to solve people’s problems but it will offer them hope and tell them they are worthy,” he said.

“It’s so bloody important for the next generation.”

Kilmore Racing Club general manager Ben Murphy said the club saw its role within the community to provide an opportunity to make a difference to people who might need assistance and to provide further thought-provoking ideas and opportunities to learn.

“After COVID last year, we’ve been looking at how we can help as a club in getting the community back on track,” he said.