Lee Briers: Wigan Warriors assistant coach says it's important to talk about mental health after he suffered in silence following his brother's death

Lee Briers wishes he could have opened up and discussed how he felt when his brother died of testicular cancer in 2001.

By Amos Wynn
Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 12:00 pm

The Wigan Warriors assistant coach says he struggled to cope because he had never dealt with grief before, and felt like he just had to get on with it, suffering in silence.

Briers is pleased more things are in place to help players now, including this week’s Tackle the Tough Stuff round.

He said: “It's a great concept, because it’s getting men and women to speak.

Lee Briers

“I hadn’t really spoken about the death of my brother until four or five years ago. I kept it all in, because back then there was no talking about our mental health, it was just ‘crack on with it.’

“I went off the rails quite hard. Coming to training and playing was my saviour. I was always a bit of a naughty kid, and then that happened. It was the first time I had any grief in my life, and I didn’t know how to handle it.

“People just thought I was Lee Briers the superstar. My form didn’t dip, so why would anyone worry about me? I didn’t know how to deal with it, and probably hit the bottle too much.

“I wish I had people to talk to about it. My mum and dad are older, and probably a bit more old school, which is not their fault.

“I didn’t ask for help, so it was probably 10 years of crying every time I went to his grave, and I still do a bit now. My mum passed away 18 months ago and they are buried together, so I cry for her now.

“I’m still not over it, but I can talk about it. I’m so glad we can now acknowledge it. We’ve got a lot of stuff out there which I encourage people to go to if they are going through anything to speak out.

“I can speak to you now without just about tearing up, and that wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago. I was brought up in an era where you don’t show weakness, which is not right, weakness is fine.

“It’s really important that we have role models now speaking out, but it’s got to be genuine as there will be people who play the boy who cried wolf card. It’s really important that we push it because it’s a fantastic cause.”

Briers states there is more work to be done and believes rugby league should put an even bigger focus on allowing players to open up.

“If you feel something then it can’t be wrong, and making sure there is someone there to listen is the key,” he added.

“We need to push and break the stigma. We are not there yet, there is a long way to go, but if this round can save one life then it’s done its job.

“It’s helped me a lot, and you wouldn't think it would but it’s really important to talk. You won’t realise it at the time but you will further down the line.

“I would take the welfare managers away from each club and make it central to rugby league. Not every club has a welfare officer that only looks after welfare.

“It’s really important that we get some funding where each club has their own officer, or that there is a group of six who look after two clubs each. Let's not play about with it, let’s go full tilt and make sure that’s the case.

“If we are serious about it, let's make sure welfare is welfare and not anything else. Mental health is live, it’s not just one day, so they’ve got to be on call 24-7.

“Everyone needs to know it’s okay to talk and listen. It’s about comfort in your own surroundings, and the key thing is it’s okay.

“We’ve got a really good organisation at Wigan. It’s led from the chairman all the way down. If anyone has a problem, we can always sit down and have a coffee. It’s always important that you feel wanted and cared for, and that it’s not just a token gesture.”