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“I was bankrupt as a person, I had nothing left.”
Former Hawthorn and North Melbourne gun Nathan Thompson was one of the first AFL stars to shed a light on the scourge of depression and men’s health.
Former North Melbourne and Hawthorn star Nathan Thompson has opened up on his battle with depression.
And he has revealed the depths his battle reached back in 2004 when he had a nervous breakdown at Glenferrie Oval.
“I think ‘03 I got named vice-captain of the footy club, ‘04 I’d just been given a new three-year deal, and all of this had been going on while I, in the background, had been really struggling with my own health,” Thompson said on SEN’s This Is Your Sporting Life.
“The best way I can try to describe it to people, it was like a personal nightmare where my mind just wouldn’t switch off.
“A lot of negative, irrational, illogical thoughts that would just haunt me, day-in and day-out.
“Wouldn’t sleep at night.
“A lot of days I’d find myself sitting there going ‘I actually don’t think I’m sane’.
“But I’ve just got to hide this from people because my life is falling apart and to be honest I don’t want to lose my job.
An absolute bull on the field, Thompson’s imposing presence hid his off-field battles.
“And I’m pretty scared about how I’ll be treated or seen from a perception point of view by the public, by fans, by family, by friends.”
Thompson said he was ready to quit football on that fateful night at Glenferrie Oval in 2004, his then-coach Peter Schwab emerged as his saviour.
“I had a breakdown at the club, (it) got to the point where I just couldn’t cope anymore,” he said.
“I was sort of crying and in a really bad way and I just said ‘I’ve gotta see Schwabby, I retire from footy, I’m done, I’m finished I don’t want to do this anymore’.
“Went into Schwabby’s office … (and) the greatest thing Peter Schwab ever gave me was that 10 minutes of his time where he was able to put a bit of perspective to me on what was happening and give me some advice that changed my life.
“He said ‘mate, I don’t know what the hell’s going on here just please take your time, let’s work this out, I’ll support you, the club will support you, what’s going on?’
“I explained, blow-by-blow what had been going on, what I was dealing with, how I was feeling.
Thompson credits then-Hawthorn coach Peter Schwab with helping him face his demons.
“And at the end, he just sat there … looked across at me and he just said ‘Thommo, no matter what happens mate, we’ll support you … but let me just say this to you as your coach and friend. To me, it seems like you’re running, it seems like your hiding away and you’re not dealing with the issue of what’s going on in your life here’.
“And he goes, ‘if you don’t deal with it now … I reckon you’ll be running from it from the rest of your life’.
“The light went off and I said ‘you know what, he’s absolutely spot on, I have been running from this, I’ve been hiding, I’ve been fearful, I’ve been scared to actually genuinely find out what’s going on and try and sort this out.”
Hawthorn showed solidarity with Thompson when his depression battle was made public in 2004.
Thompson credits that light bulb moment with father figure Schwab would be the catalyst for him to turn around his life.
“From there … I went home, sat down with my wife, had a long chat there,” he said.
“Then opened up, I suppose a whole new chapter, because I was diagnosed very shortly after with severe depression and, you know, medication, seeing specialists and trying to get my life back together.”
Thompson says he still has to be mindful of his mental health every day.
Former North Melbourne president James Brayshaw and Thompson have a quiet word after a game.
“I think it’s something that’s always going to be there, I’ve spoken to a lot of people and done a million talks over the years and supported beyondblue and done a lot of awareness campaigns and different pieces to support depression, mental illness, health in men, health in people since that time,” he said.
“One thing I’ve noted around depressive illnesses, It’s something that’s always there. It’s not something you can click you fingers and go hey, I’ve had the medication and its now gone forever.
“I’ve got to keep an eye on it.”
*If you or someone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or at beyondblue.org.au
Thompson had a kick for his hometown Kyneton in the Bendigo Football Netball League last year and says he still has to be mindful of his mental health. Picture: Aaron Cook