NEARLY three years after quitting AFL football, former Geelong midfielder Simon Hogan is using his experience with mental illness to help others battle their demons.
Hogan played 22 games for the Cats between 2009 and 2011, before retiring at the end of 2012 after being diagnosed with a depressive disorder.
The 26-year-old has now finished a science degree, majoring in psychology, and is working as a community engagement officer at national youth mental health foundation, Headspace.
He's also considering embarking on some more psychology-based studies.
"Psychology and mental health awareness is definitely a passion of mine so I'm looking forward to seeing where that goes," Hogan told AFL.com.au.
Back playing footy in the Victorian Amateur Football Association with University Blacks, Hogan is co-founder of a player driven initiative, Thick and Thin, that was launched in May earlier this year.
The initiative, which came about when he was approached by Old Scotch captain Scott Sherwen late last year, aims to create awareness around mental health issues among the 12,000 young men in the VAFA.
Champions of the cause have been nominated at every club in Premier and Premier B division this season to encourage conversations about mental illness.
"I think footy clubs are such an important area to approach mental health in a positive way, and to get young men thinking about mental health and what they do to keep themselves well.
"I think the fact that [Thick and Thin] is a footy club approach is very unique and it's just a powerful way of addressing the stigma that's still associated with mental health issues."
Hogan admitted the "macho" cultures of football clubs at all levels often prevents those struggling with mental illness to seek help.
"Speaking to my teammates was one of the things I was most scared of when I was having a bit of a rough time," Hogan said.
"I guess that was around not knowing how they would view me and thinking that it's really going to change the way I'm seen as a person and as a footballer. It's incredible at how inaccurate that thought process was.
"The more that we can promote positive mental health conversations and just general conversations about absolutely anything within a club environment the better."
Hogan said the support he received from his teammates at Geelong and the club was outstanding, and has praised the Cats for helping Mitch Clark to resurrect his AFL career after his own battle with depression.
"I feel a little bit of pride in Geelong taking on Mitch and being prepared to help him get back playing AFL footy," Hogan said.
"I guess I learned a lot through my experience at the Cats, but the footy club certainly did as well in how to manage those sorts of issues and what's best for the player and what’s not. They were certainly fantastic in my situation and I'm sure they took a lot of confidence from that in picking up Mitch."
Hogan and Sherwen have big dreams for Thick and Thin.
The aim in the short term is to have champions of the cause at every club across all grades in the VAFA before turning their attention to other metro football leagues.
August 15 is Thick and Thin ‘socks round’ in the VAFA.
Home teams will wear navy socks, and away clubs sky blue in a bid to raise awareness.