Josh Dugan opens up to shine light on men's mental health
After a dramatic exit from the Canberra Raiders in 2013, rugby league player Josh Dugan found himself in a dark place – and not just in his career.
But after a long battle with his own illness, Dugan is now speaking out and using his struggles to shine a light on men’s mental health, in a bid to help others.
“When I got terminated from Canberra, for about six weeks, I was writing myself off just trying to forget about everything,” Dugan told nine.com.au
“Pretty much as far back as I can remember, I have suffered from mild anxiety. I just thought that I was okay, and that it would pass.”
This is the reality for many Australian men who suffer from mental illness - avoiding seeking help, or not knowing where to go, until they feel they have no other options left.
“It actually took my old man to ring my best mate,” he said.
“He came over and said, ‘look, you’ve got to get your sh-- together’.”
While Dugan’s mate stepped in and offered assistance at the right time, for others, the consequences can be tragic.
The facts are stark. Suicide is the leading cause of death among men aged 15 to 44. Around 75 per cent of suicides every day are male. One in five Aussie men experience anxiety at some point in their lives, according to Beyond Blue.
Dr Nic Vogelpoel, is the Movember Foundation’s Global Lead for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, and said it was often hard to put those feelings into words.
“We kind of shut down or turn away to kind of isolate ourselves,” Dr Vogelpoel said.
With Dugan’s NRL childhood dream apparently in tatters, he isolated himself from his loved ones and family.
“I thought I had the world at my feet,” Dugan said.
“But when that was taken away from me, I felt like I had nothing left.”
With strict guidelines from the NRL, and endless support from his new team, St George-Illawarra Dragons, Dugan got himself back on track.
He found he also had passions outside of rugby league, and decided to pursue his study in the mental health sector, where he has almost finished his diploma.
‘I’m an easy target’
However, Dugan became an easy target. His every move was scrutinised, and he continued to suffer from injuries. Social media trolls clawed at any shred of resilience he still had in him.
“I guess my perception of myself, changed at times too because of things that were said about me,” Dugan said.
Amid rumours surrounding his rep-footy career, due to his ongoing injury battles, 2018 got the best of him, leading to a very emotional breakdown.
“Things come and go and if you supress them, and bottle them up they’re eventually going to spill out,” he said.
“It was pretty public, the spill out.”
‘It’s okay to not be okay’
Dr Vogelpoel told nine.com.au, that men find it hard to speak up, mainly due to lack of confidence, but also many other complex factors. For Dugan, he believes that looking out for your mates is a major step in the right direction.
“I think, it’s hard, the male gene is always going to be strong and you’re always going to try and handle things on your own because you want to be that masculine, strong person,” Dugan said.
“My advice would be to speak to your close friends and just say, ‘look, I’m struggling.’
“If you’re really close to someone, and they’re struggling or self-destructing, you just have to be honest and up front with them. They might not like it at the time, but you’ve definitely got their best interests at heart.”
Dugan has recently become an advocate for mental health awareness. He is an NRL state of mind ambassador, but has also joined forces with the Sutherland Shire’s ‘Make bullying history’ campaign. He wants to spread the message that mental illness is in fact an illness, and help men and boys support their mates along the way.
“It’s like getting the flu, you can’t avoid it sometimes, it doesn’t discriminate and some cases are worse than others,” he said.
“Mental health is a tough thing to go through, and if you can get through that and function and live and find your happiness, you’re one of the strongest people.”
If you or someone you know is seeking support and information about suicide prevention, contact Men's Helpline on 1300 789 978, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.