Harri Morgan was living the dream while suffering in silence.
From growing up in a rugby fanatic family in the Valleys to scoring a try on his debut for the local professional team the Ospreys at 18.
From being celebrated at school for his rugby prowess to gaining national fame by starting to represent Wales in the Six Nations at Under-20 level.
“From an early age I kind of accelerated through the age groups pretty quickly,” he recalled in an interview with Sky News.
“Then when I got to the age of 19, 20, the injuries started to increase.”
Injuries that not only took a physical toll but also impacted his mental well-being.
At the same time, Morgan’s grandmother died suddenly and her grandfather died of cancer.
“Losing them hit me like nothing had ever hit me before,” he said. “I love playing rugby – and with injury I couldn’t do that.”
There was grief over the loss of his grandparents and pain over his rugby ambitions put on hold by injuries.
He said, “So the thoughts come from what is my purpose in life? What is my purpose? I had no purpose.
“While rugby was always my goal, I had lost the ability to play rugby. So I had lost the goal. And that’s where suicidal thoughts come in.”
The anxiety intensified over Christmas.
He had asked for help from his parents and his doctor.
“Then in February it obviously hit a tipping point where I tried to kill myself,” he recalls.
In the hospital, he realized this, talking to his parents and the doctors.
Getting back to fitness had been the priority, but protecting his mental health meant leave rugby at 23.
“Let’s get back to being a good person, to living my life as a person, rather than the stress that rugby can bring,” Morgan said in his first interview since deciding to quit playing.
“Rugby can give you the best times of your life, which it has, and I’m grateful to rugby for that…but injuries and all that comes with rugby, not many people talk about the negatives.”
It’s rare for an athlete to speak so candidly about their mental health. Especially such a young one – the first player born this century to play for the Ospreys.
“You can’t fix something on your own”
He wants to show speech aids. To show that there is no shame. To show that things are better. And to save lives. Not just in rugby or sport but more broadly.
“I know people close to me who are committing suicide in my area,” he said. “I (sought) help. I wasn’t able to fix it myself. You can’t fix something on your own.
“You always need help and there are people who are there to help us. The help we need.
“And I hope by speaking that I’ve saved lives or that I will in the future. And that’s what I hope to do for years to come – to continue to have that voice, to continue to tell my story. story. And raise that awareness and break that stigma.”
It’s a particularly important message in this World Cup year, as tournament hopefuls could suffer injuries or be abandoned, leaving them unable to dream their whole lives.
“It will be a tough two months for players with World Cups – a potential disappointment,” he said. “But let’s talk about those disappointments.”
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“Let’s make mental health something we can talk about”
“Let’s air our thoughts and make mental health something we can talk about among ourselves rather than something we feel we have to hide,” he added.
And maybe one day Morgan will come back to play. For now, however, the job is developing an online fitness business.
“I’m not saying goodbye to rugby forever,” he said, concluding the interview at Ospreys training HQ.
“I’m just taking a little bit every minute to get the right number one. To develop myself as a person and then potentially I’d like to come back to rugby.
“And I know that if I’m mentally in a better position, I can perform better on the pitch.”
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call the Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org in the UK. In the United States, call your local Samaritans branch or 1 (800) 273-TALK.