WESTERN Bulldogs star Bailey Smith has revealed that behind the rock star looks and alongside the extraordinary opening two seasons of his AFL career is a 20-year-old living with a mental health condition.
In a revealing and raw interview with AFL.com.au where he volunteered discussion about his mental health, Smith urged the AFL industry to open itself further to discussing and dealing with the issue.
The gun midfielder, who has played all possible 41 Bulldogs matches since being drafted in 2018, said football was "only the tiniest bit of me", that "you can never judge a book by its cover", and that premiership player and current assistant coach Dale Morris was one of many Bulldogs people who have helped him deal with his struggles.
"There was actually a time where (Morris) looked after me - I broke down at the club, everyone had left one night, and I was just struggling, this was in my first year, when it all gets too much for you," Smith said.
"Everyone had left. And he walked into the changerooms and gave me a big hug and said, 'I'm here for you'."
Smith, who turned 20 last December, said he had always been an "over-thinker" and "perfectionist".
"We've all got demons, we've all got things that make us anxious or struggle, and I've got my own mental health which I deal with, as I'm sure lots of people do, but it's just not spoken about as much as I'd like it, and I know we are getting better as a society and as footballers, talking about it, but we can be seen as easy going, living the dream, loving it," he said.
"It can be the truth, it can be the story but you can never judge a book by its cover. There's a lot going on. I'm an over-thinker, always have been.
"… it stems from growing up through school, and footy and stuff. I haven't been too open about it but I probably need to address it a bit more if it comes up in conversation. I think it's healthy to talk about it, and know that everyone doesn't always cope as well as they would like, and it's OK to put your hand up and say you're struggling.
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"The club is really good, very open with this, and lots of my teammates know I struggle at times. People knew I had mental health issues before I got drafted, which is something which is OK and I take in my stride. It makes me a lot better and makes me who I am."
In the interview, Smith referred to two Baileys - the AFL footballer and the one known to those outside football.
The non-footballer, he said, was: "A sensitive, caring person, (who) loves talking to people, getting to know people, I love my dogs and love being relaxed. Football is only the tiniest bit of me, it used to be all of me, but I'm trying to steer clear of that because it is not a healthy way to be.
"That helps a lot in terms of not riding every bump which happens in football, because if you do that, it is such an emotionally tolling experience. And I did that last year, the year before, and it takes a big toll on you. The less you can see football as you, and solely you, I feel the easier it is to cope with the pressures, the talk.
"When you are a kid, you think about it, you had football, you had school, you had so much going on, and football was what you loved, and you have to try to keep it that way. It doesn't have to be solely you.
"It comes with over-thinking, I love thinking, I love exploring, I love listening to more mature, wiser people and feed that into my life."
Conceding that as a perfectionist he would never be perfect, Smith said pursuing perfection was important.
"That's the thing – you chase it, you're never going to get it, and I understand that and I don't do my head over that," he said.
"But I think it is important to have expectations of yourself and strive for whatever you want to be, and whatever that is, just chase it. You have to understand though you are never going to get there, it is a neverending thing, but the fun of chasing it is something I am very attracted to."
Asked what perfection might look like to him, he said: "I was thinking more like just having a family, happy, kids, just chilling after having a nice career, working away and going on holidays with the kids, as simple as that, it'd be pretty fun.
"With football, give me three, four, five (premierships) … three would be nice, one would be nice, just to play in one and make it there."
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