NRL great Greg Inglis has delivered a critical message to young West Australians as part of a Rio Tinto sponsored Indigenous Youth Football event in Perth to raise awareness around mental health.
Scholars from the Rio Tinto Indigenous Youth Football programme were invited to Grand Cinemas in Warwick to watch the Australian Story documentary 'Beating the Blues' and meet Greg afterwards to talk about his own mental health journey.
Inglis enjoyed a glittering career of 264 NRL games with the Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs, 32 State of Origin appearances, 39 matches for Australia and four matches for the Indigenous All Stars.
But off-field, life for Inglis was a different story. He was prescribed a range of medication for depression and anxiety and self-medicated with alcohol, leading to two stints in rehabilitation clinics. It was only after the second of these that he received a correct diagnosis for his condition — Bipolar II.
Since retirement from the NRL, Greg founded the Goanna Academy, an organisation designed to help end the stigma surrounding mental health and improve social capacity to identify, talk about, and manage mental health for all Australians - in particular at risk groups such as Regional Males, Youth, and First Nations communities.
Inglis relayed to event attendees that he was initially hesitant about the thought of having his story in the public sphere.
"When I was asked to be part of the documentary I initially pushed back, but then I was told (by Professor Gordon Parker) your story can help change a life and save a life, and that’s why I changed," Inglis said.
"It’s why I started the Goanna Academy, and that’s why I go around the country telling my story."
Inglis freely admits he had no idea what entering rehabilitation meant.
"When I first did rehab, I thought one round would fix it all," he said.
"It takes a lot of courage to walk through those doors, or into those institutions.
"That’s when you’re at your most vulnerable."
Now 35, 'GI' as he’s affectionately known, recalls a task he was given on his road to recovery.
"I did a thing in rehab which I encourage you guys to do, write a letter to your younger self and that’s what I did," Inglis said.
"I arrived at rehab and said I needed help, otherwise I wouldn’t be standing here today, especially with the way I was going downhill quickly."
Inglis also has advice for those who believe a loved one or a friend needs assistance.
"I would suggest tread carefully with it, you can’t just come in and say you need help," he said.
"Quite often the person will just walk away, so I would say approach them gently."
Joseph Ugle, Indigenous Programs Specialist at the WAFC said it was a moving experience for all.
"To have an athlete of Greg’s profile come and talk so openly to the boys and girls in our Rio Tinto Indigenous Youth Football Scholarship about his own battles with mental illness was really powerful," said Ugle.
The event saw Greg touch on a range of topics from being proud about your culture, not being afraid to ask for help, surrounding yourself with good role models and mentors, finding balance in life and the importance to keep at it when it comes to looking after your mental health.
Rio Tinto Chief Advisor Indigenous Affairs, Adam Lees feels it was an invaluable experience for the youngsters to hear Inglis' story.
"In developing the Indigenous Youth Football Scholarship Program with the WAFC, Rio Tinto is pleased that young West Australians have greater access and exposure to opportunities that will assist their development both on and off the field," Lees said.
"The vulnerability and openness that Greg displays through telling his story shows real courage and we are hopeful that his experience will equip participants of the programme with some tips on how to better manage their mental health."
Talking about his off-field problems isn’t how Inglis pictured his post playing career, but he knows what value it serves for so many.
"To me, if you want to be a leader in this space you’ve got to go through it yourself," Inglis said.
"It’s not a textbook, you can’t just read about it. I’m not here to tell you that my story is the best, I’m just here to give people tools and guidance to look after their mental health."
To watch the Australian Story documentary 'Beating the Blues' to learn more about the Goanna Academy or for additional material relating to mental health awareness please find website links below.
Australian Story Documentary - Beating the Blue: https://www.abc.net.au/austory/beating-the-blues/12578908
Goanna Academy: https://www.goannaacademy.com.au/
Mental Health awareness: https://www.thinkmentalhealthwa.com.au/