After 13 years and 234 games, Joel Thompson is departing the NRL with a reputation as one of the toughest players of his era and a revolutionary mental health advocate.
The 32-year-old former Raiders, Dragons and Sea Eagles back-rower will play for St Helens in the UK Super League next season and he plans to continue his impactful community work overseas.
With October 10 being World Mental Health Day, Thompson recently sat down with ex-Canberra teammate Alan Tongue and then NRL.com to reflect on his vast personal development over time.
Thompson, who has bipolar II, now runs workshops through The Mindset Project, which he developed in 2012, but he credits his wife Amy with pushing him towards what has become his passion.
"[Mental health awareness in rugby league] has definitely evolved. I suffered without telling anyone. I felt like I didn't want to put it on to anyone else and I didn't know who to go to," Thompson said.
"I didn't know there were counsellors out there or where to go. I guess, for me, I opened up to my wife who really encouraged me and actually organised for me to see a counsellor through her work.
Joel Thompson – Episode 3
"It was a big change for me to where I am now. That's why I'm so passionate about going out there and speaking about it, because I want others out there to do the same.
"If you're struggling, put your hand up and go and get some help. There's help out there and you can come through it. I guess I'm an example of that and it's important to show people that."
Thompson has spoken openly about being surrounded by violence, alcohol and crime throughout his formative years.
Tongue, an NRL State of Mind ambassador who was captain of the Raiders when Thompson made his NRL debut in 2008, was delighted to interview the Ivanhoe product as he reflected on his journey.
"I think it's a testament to rugby league actually. To watch him grow and evolve as a player and most importantly as a person, it just reinforces my love of the game," Tongue said.
"It's greater than just a product on the field, it's what it does to people's lives off it. I'm really proud of the game, I'm proud of Joel. The work that he does impacts so many. He's such a terrific guy."
Thompson said he's "very proud of the impact I've had".
"I never thought I would see myself being someone to be an advocate or speaking about it," he said.
"When you know you've had that impact and you've helped someone go, 'Your story actually helped me go and talk to someone for the first time' or give up drinking or whatever it is.
"When you get that feedback, you go, 'I'm on this earth. I can leave it and know that I've left it as a better place'. It's pretty cool."
If you're struggling, put your hand up and go and get some help. There's help out there and you can come through it.Joel Thompson
Thompson is still achieving milestones. He's coming up to one year sober and intends to take The Mindset Project to England.
"I'm always going to be involved in the community, it's something that I can never stop doing because it's been a big part of my life and I'll continue doing that," he said.
"We'll see how it all works out and I'm looking forward to that too - the unknown."
He said World Mental Health Day was "so important".
"It's great that we're having these days. It's starting those conversations and we're starting to bring more awareness around it."
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Another departing player, retiring Broncos veteran Darius Boyd, has long been an NRL State of Mind ambassador and said he's noticed a big, positive shift in the game's attitude towards mental health.
"When I first started it was just 'be quiet, shut your mouth and do your job' type mentality and earn respect, which are all valid things. But I think these days it's about talking, it's about speaking, it's about getting the best out of each other," Boyd said.
"I think the best way you can get the best out of someone is by caring about them. I think if you really care about someone when they're going through good times or bad times, they always know that you're there and they have that support.
"I think you're going to get the best out of them in any workforce, whether that's rugby league or out in the corporate world."
For 24/7 crisis support or suicide prevention services, please call 13 11 14. If life is in danger, call 000.
All other enquiries, please call the Lifeline National Office on 02 6215 9400 or the Lifeline Centre nearest to you.