State of Mind: Tonga reflects on friend Maitua’s suicide bid

Catalans centre Wille Tonga knows better than most what can happen when people keep their struggles to themselves after close friend and former teammate Reni Maitua tried to commit suicide.

Tonga and Maitua were very close after playing in the NRL together at the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Parramatta Eels. But Maitua was battling depression in silence and when the forward attempted suicide last year it was Tonga who proved to be his saviour.

“Without being blood-related, Reni is like a brother to me,” Tonga told State of Mind.

“I know Reni like the back of my hand. I know when he’s having an off day, I know when he’s having a good day. I know when to back off and let him chill.

“But I never knew he was going through what he was. For me to be one of his best mates, I could pick up when he was having a bad day but to not see the signs of him having depression, I sort of felt guilty.

“I didn’t know depression was a disease. And after all that’s happened and now he’s came out and spoken about it, he said he wishes he could have been man enough to tell me.

“I’ve said to him man you’re like my brother. You can tell me anything, it’ll go to the grave with me. If he had spoken out a lot earlier that wouldn’t have even gotten close to where it went.”

Tonga, who has experienced the ups and downs of a high-profile and successful rugby league career in Australia, playing for both his state and country, says he has learned a lot from the episode. No one should suffer in silence.

“I think it’s important just to check up on your mates,” he said.

“It might seem rosy and dandy but when people go home you don’t know what’s going on in there lives. I think with Reni that was a perfect example.

“He put a brave face on and behind closed doors he was going through so much. He’s one of my bets mates and I’ve known him for over 10 years and I still had no idea.

“Now he’s trying to tell people the best thing he could have done is to tell his best mates and his friends. When it all happened I had to wear that on my shoulders for two months, I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone and I struggled with that.

“I think he feels for guilty for that because I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. If you’re going through anything the best thing from what I’ve experienced is to speak to someone about it whether it’s your teammates, your family, your partner, whoever it may be.

“If it’s one of your teammates and you can see they’re not right just take some time out to go up and just say hello because I know it can make a big difference, whether it be a minute or five minutes or whatever.

“That’s what I’ve learnt over the past year. Just going out of your way to say hello to a teammate, especially the young boys who might be struggling if they’re not making the team or the coach is on their back.”

Last weekend saw the annual State of Mind themed Super League round.

This year’s message was “What’s Theirs?”, encouraging people to ask those around them how they are feeling.

Just chatting and spending time with someone can make the world of difference. It’s not about trying to fix people or trying to solve their problems for them. Often, it’s just about being there, showing you care and listening without making judgements.

For more information on State of Mind, visit www.stateofmindsport.org

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