St George Illawarra forward Joel Thompson is one of 14 State of Mind ambassadors appointed by the NRL to increase awareness around mental health – one of the country's biggest health issues.
The engagement of elite players is critical in bringing a different attitude to the way mental health is addressed within the community.
"This campaign is something that is close to my heart," Thompson said.
"I've had family members and some friends go through some tough times, and myself, so I wanted to get on board and help out where I could."
Mental illness affects one in two people nationally. Rugby league is in a unique position to have a positive impact on mental health by using its profile and players to lead discussion, connect people and help break the silence on what can be a life-threatening matter.
"At times when I was at Canberra I struggled a bit. I had no energy and was sort of disconnected with people in my life. I didn't want to talk to people, I just went to training and got my job done and went home," Thompson says.
"When things were tough I was drinking by myself and wouldn't know when to stop.
"It affected my life, my marriage and it affected my career. My wife knew I need help and encouraged me to talk to someone.
"It really helped and we put some strategies in place. I really learnt a lot about myself, and not just about mental health but different issues and how to talk about it."
The State of Mind Ambassadors, who are current NRL squad members, volunteered for the roles because they wanted to make a difference in the area of mental health.
The nomination process took into account; reputation both on and off the field, a desire to contribute to the mental wellness of the community, participation in education in a relevant field and a willingness and capacity to participate in activities outside the club football schedule.
"It something we need to get on top of and we need to really start educating and having conversations," Thompson said.
"There are so many great organisations out there only a call away. These places save lives every day.
"If people aren't comfortable talking to friends or family they can call these guys who are trained professionals.
"Eventually I'd like to talk to the Under 20s and educate them about mental health and to make sure they're looking out for each other."
All ambassadors will receive Mental Health First Aid training and qualifications, training and support to be able to deliver a mental health program designed by the Black Dog Institute, the opportunity to give back to their community in a meaningful way and become a leader in mental health awareness within their clubs.
The NRL is in coalition with Lifeline, Kids Helpline, Headspace and the Black Dog Institute to implement a number of new initiatives.
For more information visit nrlstateofmind.com.au
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