Recovery from mental illness is possible. That's the message professional boxer, former NRL player and proud Wiradjuri man Joe Williams shared with Moree Secondary College students on Thursday.
"The best place to live is right now," he told the students at the end of his Enemy Within Workshop.
"Live in that present moment and do the best we can every single day. If today's the worst day ever, it can only get better."
Williams, who has played for the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Penrith Panthers and Canterbury Bulldogs, had always been plagued by suicidal thoughts and depressive moods, and the pressures of elite sport took their toll.
He turned drugs and alcohol to silence the negative dialogue in his head, before attempting to take his own life in 2012.
That was the wake-up call he needed, and it was boxing, which he took up professionally in 2009, which eventually helped him to rebuild.
He has since become a mental health advocate and motivational speaker. He is also an author, having contributed to the book Transformation; Turning Tragedy Into Triumph and his very own autobiography titled Defying The Enemy Within.
Williams shared his raw story with the students and staff of Moree Secondary College and said the main message he hoped they could take away was that recovery is possible, as he has proven.
"It's not all doom and gloom - you can get through tough times, it just takes a bit of hard work," he said.
"And you don't have to do it alone.
"There are so many people out there struggling, it's important for people to reach out to the ones doing it tough, not wait for them to come to you."
Williams has been speaking out about mental health for the past five years in the hopes of breaking the stigma and reducing the number of suicides, particularly among the Indigenous community
"We're losing people, people are dying; that's the reality of it," he said.
"The concept of mental health is a relatively new one for a lot of our community. We [Australia's Aboriginal population] didn't have suicides pre-colonisation. Now, we're one of the highest in the world in certain age demographics."
This is the second time Williams has spoken in Moree, having presented another powerful talk at Moree Secondary College in 2016.
In addition to Williams' workshop, year nine and 10 students also listened to a presentation from Batyr, a preventative mental health organisation, created and driven by young people, for young people, which aims to give a voice to the elephant in the room by smashing the stigma around mental ill-health and empowering young people to reach out for support.
Two people shared their experiences with mental health in the hopes of breaking down that stigma.
"Our speakers' stories focus on recovery, seeking help and where they are today," Batyr NSW regional community coordinator Amy Devrell said.
"The messaging is around hope and courage and resilience and that there's always support out there.
"It might not be the first person you reach out to, but keep trying because you will find someone who can help."
In the afternoon, the students played touch football and basketball.
Moree Secondary College senior leader community engagement Janine French organised the day, and said National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day is all about breaking the stigma.
"The main message is, don't be afraid to speak out and seek help," she said.
"There's nothing to be ashamed of."
Williams will also speak at an open community session at the Dhiiyaan Aboriginal Centre at 4.30pm today. Anyone is welcome to attend.