KOBE, 9 Oct - With mental health an ever more important issue in modern life, Canada’s record-breaking World Cup player DTH van der Merwe is all too aware of the pressures facing athletes once they retire.
The man with the most appearances for Canada at Rugby World Cups as well as most test tries for his country wants to play his part in promoting awareness in rugby ahead of World Mental Health Day on Thursday.
"It’s all about tackling the stigma behind mental health, just being OK to talk about it, getting it out in the open,” said Van der Merwe, whose RWC career spans 15 games.
"You come straight out of high school and you’re straight into professional teams and you have these 30 mates around you all the time and their support - but then, when you step away from rugby, sometimes you just get forgotten and the wheels fall off the train.
"So the more we speak about it, the better it will be for ourselves, for our peers and for the people that follow us."
Van der Merwe's career has had more than its share of highs, and against Namibia on Sunday he could become only one of five players to score at four Rugby World Cups. But it is the lows that concern the Canadian, especially in his game.
"There is this persona about rugby players being tough and hard men, that they don’t show weakness," he said. "But we need to speak more about the risk of injury, the risk of retirement.
"The highs we have as rugby players, the adrenaline fix we get every weekend, when that is taken away, whether it’s through injury or your age... you have to somehow find something to replace that high. Sometimes that is the trouble.
"I’m 33 now and I’m thinking about that transition. You read stories of ex-athletes that were at the top of the game, making good money, it’s a good lifestyle, but then there’s no fall-back.
"There’s no career development happening during their rugby career and then, when they’re done with rugby, well, what now? How am I going to take care of my family?”
Van der Merwe, after more than a decade since his first cap, appreciates how quickly the years breeze by and how careers can be ruthlessly cut short.
"When you’re young, you don’t understand how short your career is," he said. "You could see your career being 10, 12, 13, 15 years, but that time creeps up so quickly."
Like several of his team-mates, Van der Merwe has planned for his family's future after rugby and has completed firefighter courses.
"I’ve played rugby my whole life... I’ve never done the real life. I’ve never been in a real job so that’s the scary part.
"I hope I do lead by example and if it helps one person, then it’s good enough for me."