Episode #27: Joel Thompson Speaks On Tackling Mental Health Stigma In The NRL

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Thanks for listening to another episode of It Ain’t Weak to Speak with Sam Webb. Please rate the podcast and leave a review if you enjoyed it. 

Click here to leave a review & rate our show!

Our guest today needs little introduction. Having amassed over 230 career NRL games, playing for the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles and the Indigenous All Stars Rugby League team, he is a man often in the spotlight and known for his strength on the field. Tune in to this episode to hear Joel Thompson open up about his journey with mental health struggles and how seeking professional help turned his life around.  

Growing up in a remote NSW community and raised in a dysfunctional family, Joel wasn’t equipped with the right tools to cope with the pressures that came with being a professional athlete.  He turned to alcohol abuse and self destructive behaviour which almost ended his flourishing career. Urged by his wife to seek help, Joel shares about the first time he spoke to a professional and how he felt like a completely different person after opening up emotionally.  

Joel talks about the importance of having good people around you and establishing a support network to help you through the hard times.  He shares from his experience in having to set boundaries with people who weren’t a good influence and how he started prioritising his mental health for the sake of his family and the pursuit of his career.

Discovering victory in his own life and wanting to help others do the same, Joel established the Mindset Project in 2012.  Through this program, Joel shares his story and provides mindset practices and coping strategies to groups of people, helping them change the perception they have of themselves and what they are capable of achieving.

This episode is sure to inspire you as you hear the openness of Joel’s heart in sharing his journey.  He reminds us that we all have our story and that sharing it with others brings us closer together and more connected to ourselves.



[3:30]: Joel’s rugby league career and how he plays hard

[5:00]: The biggest challenges over Joel’s career and how being a professional athlete was more challenging than he anticipated

[6:22]: The importance of having the right people around you and how Joel’s wife encouraged him to seek help from a professional to find breakthrough 

[8:00]: How Joel turned to drinking to cope with the pressure because he wasn’t equipped with the right strategies

[10:20]: How the ups and downs of professional football and Joel’s dysfunctional upbringing played a role in his mental health struggles and how speaking to a professional turned things around 

[12:00]: Joel was encouraged to share his story and volunteering at a juvenile justice centre made him see how he was really helping others and it actually helped him too

[12:50]: The first time he spoke to a professional and how he felt like a different person walking out

[14:00]: The importance of connecting with people and how the Mindset Project works

[15:30]: Joel’s advice to identify the people around you who are supportive and foster positive relationships with them

[17:00]: How Joel had to set boundaries with some people who were negative influences on his life

[19:00]: The hard conversations Joel had to distance himself from people for the sake of being a good dad and taking care of his own life

[20:30]: How Joel’s story didn’t change overnight, a drunken accident wake up call and his type 2 bipolar diagnosis

[22:15]: How the bipolar medication turned him into a “teddy bear” and how that affected his game

[24:20]: How Joel always speaks from the heart and is open with his journey

[26:30]: How being the captain of the Indigenous Allstars was a highlight and how he could be involved to inspire young kids

[29:00]: Grab hold of the good people around you and distance yourself from those who aren’t a good influence

[30:00]: Joel’s signing with St Helens and his upcoming move to the UK

[31:30]: The Mindset Project and how Joel plans to keep building it and see where it goes

[34:00]: How Joel always thought football was his purpose in life but that helping others is what put the fire in his belly to make a difference in the world

[37:00]: How the brain is malleable and we can work to change our thinking and create healthy habits

Thanks for listening to another episode of It Ain’t Weak to Speak with Sam Webb. Please rate the podcast and leave a review if you enjoyed it. 

Click here to leave a review & rate our show!

If after listening to this episode and you don't quite feel right or you want to reach out to someone to speak to, we have provided some useful resources below. 

For immediate support please call one of the following 24/7 hotlines. Someone will be ready to take your call. Remember, ‘It Ain’t Weak to Speak’


If you are in Australia:


Emergency: 000

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800


If you are in the United States:


Emergency: 911

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text LIVIN to 741741 in the United States


If you would prefer to speak with someone face-to-face, we recommend visiting your local GP (doctor) who will be able to have a chat with you about what is going on in your life and refer you to a mental health professional if required.

For some tools to help you with things like stress, low mood, general worries, please check out our LIVIN tips and tricks here.

If you would like to learn more about LIVIN, join the movement, or help spread the word, please visit us at the links below:

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