A deep concern about alarming youth suicide rates and personal experiences with mental illness are driving Sharks star Josh Dugan to mentor at-risk teenagers.
The Cronulla outside back's admirable community endeavours have resulted in a nomination for the 2019 Ken Stephen Medal; recognition he never sought but described as "humbling".
The 29-year-old – who is studying a Diploma of Counselling – has worked closely with the Make Bullying History Foundation in his own time for around 18 months, visiting schools to convey bullying's devastating effects.
"For me, it stems down to the mental health side of it and youth suicide. A lot of it attributes back to school bullying and things like that," Dugan told NRL.com.
"Being able to go in there and tell kids about bullying and the impact it has – not only on other kids but their families and all the rest – [is important].
"Some kids get to the point where they feel they can't go anywhere and end up taking their own life."
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 24. Dugan can't bear to sit idly by and allow the statistics to keep rising.
"No parent should have to bury their child. Youth suicide is way too high in Australia and across the world," he said.
"If we can make a tiny bit of difference at schools and make kids more aware of the impact they're having by picking on kids, it's a win."
Dugan's contributions to the Make Bullying History campaign are just the start of an impressive CV of community efforts.
He is a proud NRL State of Mind advocate, regularly visited the Cobham Juvenile Detention Centre earlier this year to set kids on the right path, and raised more than $6000 for the Bear Cottage children's hospice by shaving his trademark mullet in May.
Dugan also arranged for 15 students with autism and other learning disabilities from Engadine High School's Special Needs Unit to attend a Sharks training session and meet the team on National Autism Day this year.
"It's something I'll continue to do regardless of the outcome [of the Ken Stephen Medal]," Dugan said of his off-field work.
"It's definitely an honour and a privilege to be able to do what I do and be up in that conversation."
The NSW and Australian representative's own struggles with depression and anxiety have created a burning desire to assist others.
He checked into a Thailand rehabilitation clinic for a month last off-season to address his demons and emerged a much more resilient character.
"I still have my battles but that's the life I live. You live with a constant anxiety as a professional player – week to week, winning, losing, injuries," Dugan said.
"I still go see my doctor every month and just stay on top of things. I'll continue doing that. Hitting rock bottom and going to rehab was the best thing that happened, considering where I'm at now."
Dugan will be busy when Cronulla's season finishes – he'll marry his partner Jordan in November and hopes his form warrants an Australian recall.
He also wants to get involved with the Feel The Magic organisation which helps grieving kids cope with the loss of somebody close.
The former Raider and Dragon plans to complete his counselling diploma "in the next 12 months" and already has an idea of how he'll use it post-football.
"My ultimate goal would be to do a couple of days a week at a school as a youth worker or mentor and if the weather's good run my own fishing charter," he said.
"They're the things that I'm striving for. I've got two years left on my contract and I'll re-evaluate after that."
A frequent target for online trolls, Dugan's relationship with fans has endured some bumps during his 11-season NRL career.
But he's felt the love in the past year and sincerely expressed his gratitude to those that have sent support.
"People going out of their way to say how good I'm going on and off the field, I'm very appreciative," he said.
"I can't get to everyone and thank everyone, but anyone that reads this – thank you."
The 2019 Ken Stephen Medal is proudly supported by wealth, property and well-being consultancy, One Solutions.
Help is available 24/7 for anyone who has mental health issues by calling Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14