• Wiradjuri man Joe Williams. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
After having spent over 15 years in the sporting limelight, Joe Williams is now making a name for himself nationally and internationally as a motivational speaker, raising awareness on depression, suicide and substance abuse. But his new career has been threatened by serious short-term memory loss, a result of his years playing sport.
Claudianna Blanco, Ross Turner

The Point
7 Apr 2017 - 5:19 PM  UPDATED 7 Apr 2017 - 5:22 PM

Joe Williams has led many lives. The former sportsman, now mental health advocate, is determined to help Indigenous young people, in Australia and abroad, who are often dealing with intergenerational trauma.

He’s also looking to inspire disengaged youth through workshops and open conversation. This, after the star’s own battle with depression, which led to his own suicide attempt in 2012.

But years of head blows and concussions were starting to take a toll, and jeopardizing Joe’s ability to work as a motivational speaker.

Joe opened up to NITV’s The Point on Thursday night, revealing that he had been suffering from serious short-term memory loss. 

Joe admitted the problem had become so serious, that by evening he would’ve frequently forgotten what he had done the same day before lunchtime. He sometimes forgot he had to pick his kids up from school.

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The short-term memory loss was also affecting his professional performance. He started stuttering and slurring, which slowed down the speed at which he could speak. 

This worrying development made him look into holistic approaches to health, which he now labels as “the right path”.

“Having good mental health and having good physical health goes hand in hand. You can mirror-match the two together, and if one is not quite right, then the other is not quite right,” he explained.

Joe has started a new intensive treatment called neuro-physic therapy.

“It’s about re- training the neural pathway in the body. It’s pretty intense.

“Initially, I started it to help re-build my memory. My short-term memory is almost non-existent.”

Joe says the therapy hasn’t cured him, but it has helped him recover some his ability to remember things.

“It’s about re-setting the neural blockages and stresses in our bodies that we have.

“It releases different traumas that you carry throughout your life.

“It’s like the fog’s lifted!”

US Speaking Tour

Joe Williams returned recently from a multi-month US speaking tour, where he visited 8 different states.

Joe told The Point he visited all sorts of communities, not just Indigenous ones, and came across many stories of people struggling with mental health.

“The problem of suicide is not confined to continents, it’s a worldwide problem. How we treat this is pretty similar all that is really different is the on-ground approach.”

For him, the worrying commonality lies in the fact that this problem is not talked about enough.

He says he spoke to some 30,000 kids during his trip, and found out some disturbing tendencies.

“Some of those kids disclosed to us for the first time ever. And remember, we aren’t professionals in this, but we’ve had some training and we made sure to tell these kids that it’s important to talk about this, as well as telling them about who they should speak to about it.”

“Suicide is just so dangerous. These are conversations that we’ve got to have."

Joe says people need to let go of their fear and speak up about what’s troubling them. 

“We want open conversations. People are often scared to talk about mental health. Often when kids are trying to talk to parents about their mental health they find it very difficult because the parents don’t often believe the kids. They seem to think it’s a form of attention seeking,” he said.

For Joe, it’s been especially alarming to hear that children as young as 9 and 10 have attempted to take their own lives.

“In America the youngest recorded person to commit suicide was 4 years old. Four! That’s horrific! They should be thinking about Santa and fairy bread, not things like suicide.

“Suicide is just so dangerous. These are conversations that we’ve got to have.  We need to have safe space talk. Often we need to talk about the uncomfortable things, so that we can actually think about the hard topics,” he added.

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Joe Williams was a keynote speaker at the World Indigenous Suicide Conference in New Zealand and at the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference in Alice Springs last year.

Joe’s recent North American tour also included a visit to Canada and Alaska to speak to First Nations Peoples about the same issues we are facing Indigenous people in Australia.

“From the conversations I’ve had, they are directly seeing the same problems.

“We really just need to listen to the professionals and come together to do what we can to help our communities and people that are struggling with mental health,” he concluded.

Book Deal

Just a few days ago, Joe also revealed he will be publishing a book on his experiences.

He wrote on facebook:

“The book documents my upbringing in country NSW, my journey to playing in the NRL, professional Boxing, Alcohol & Drug addictions (both recreational & prescription) mental illness that led to my suicide attempt in 2012. I reveal in detail the demons that plague me every day & how starting #TheEnemyWithin has helped me manage & live not only mentally well but help so many more in the process.”

The book will be released in February 2018 with a worldwide international release. 

If you or anyone you know wants to seek extra help please contact:

Lifeline on 13 11 14 
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36 
Headspace on 1800 650 890

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