Professional athlete Joe Williams talks mental health

Mental health advocate, former NRL player, professional boxer and now published author, Joe Williams, talked adversity and personal battles with suicide and mental health, to young people in the Shire of Murray this week.

William’s work for mental health awareness and suicide prevention earned him Wagga Wagga Citizen of the Year in 2015, a finalist nomination for the National Indigenous Human Rights Award in 2017 and the Suicide Prevention Australia’s LiFE Award in 2018 for his outstanding work in communities across Australia.

The sessions in Halls Head and Pinjarra saw 55 young people and community members attend, where Williams openly shared his mental health journey, as part of the Shire of Murray’s Completing the Circle project, funded by WA Primary Health Alliance as part of the Australian Government’s National Suicide Prevention Trial.

“On the back of my first concussion playing sports at age 14, a conversation started in my head that spiraled out of control. It said I wasn’t good enough, that I wouldn’t amount to anything and that I should end my life. At the age of 14, I didn’t know how to combat that,” Williams said.

Williams soon turned to self-medication and drinking alcohol to escape. He continued on this path for several years, well into his professional NRL career and as a first-time dad.

“A lot of people drink to hide, to push down, to run from something deeper that is going on,” Williams said.

“I wanted to be a good rugby player, but more than anything I really wanted to be a good role model and a good dad but I wasn’t achieving any of those things because I was too busy struggling with what was going on in my head.”

It was then that Williams decided he needed to make some changes and so he walked away from his lifestyle and his relationship with alcohol and drugs. He soon discovered boxing and began to work through his mental health struggles.

“I didn’t walk into a boxing gym to learn how to fight physically; it taught me how to fight mentally. The adversity in the ring made me search deep within myself to find out how to respond and how to overcome mental challenges. I searched harder and worked harder and confronted that scared little boy that was inside of me, and I learned how to fight back.”

Williams also sought professional help and is now a powerful advocate for helping yourself and helping others.

“I spent too much time fighting this thing by myself. It was time for me to reach out. We go to a doctor for a broken leg but we don’t go and see a doctor when it’s our brain,” Williams said.

“After talking to the doctor, I decided my life could be about helping others and the more I concentrated on helping others, the more I helped myself. I also started to write things down that were really helping other people.”

This helped Williams to develop a Wellness Plan that he now shares with the community, focusing on the seven pillars of Gratefulness, Exercise, Medication, Sleep, Compassion, Humility, Resilience and Connection.

Joe Williams was invited by the Shire of Murray to inspire individuals in the community who may be experiencing mental health concerns.

“The heart of any community is its people and it is important that positive social, emotional and psychological wellbeing is encouraged, supported and achieved throughout communities” Shire President Cr, David Bolt said.

“A community in which all members enjoy mental health is one in which people know their worth, have healthy mechanisms of coping through tough times and meaningfully contribute toward a better quality of life” he said.

Further information on events, activities and programs facilitated by the Shire of Murray can be found on the Murray Community Events Facebook page or by contacting the Shire’s Senior Community Development Officer Kelly Shipway via

To learn more about the National Suicide Prevention Trial, and activities in the Peel, Rockingham and Kwinana region, visit our website.