AFL legend James Hird has revealed how a loss of direction after football led him to contemplate suicide as he battled to deal with his inner demons.
The 47-year-old sat down with former Hawthorn captain Shane Crawford for AIA Vitality and revealed the dark places his mind ventured into beyond his playing career.
The two-time premiership winner retired from the AFL in 2007 and found himself at a loss with no drive and purpose moving into the next phase of his life.
‘I remember sitting on my kitchen floor and everyone’s gone to bed, my wife’s upstairs, the kids are in bed, and I am sitting there, just crying on the ground,’ Hird said.
‘You’re just grieving for this life you had. As much as I was glad to retire because I’m sick of being sore… there was this grieving process.’
James Hird has opened up on his devastating mental health battles after his AFL career
Hird successfully took up work with a leading sports management company, before becoming senior coach of his beloved Essendon Bombers in 2011.
Initial success came to a screaming halt in February 2013 when allegations of illegal drug and supplement use by Essendon players were revealed.
Hird found out of the allegations on his 40th birthday, which sent him into a downward spiral.
‘I woke up in the morning, went for a run and literally had the thought ‘I’ve just had a great life’,’ he said.
‘I played for the club I wanted to play at, been successful, got a job I wanted, married the most perfect woman in the world and had four kids. Life doesn’t get much better.
‘That was maybe seven o’clock in the morning. By two o’clock in the afternoon … the president (David Evans) came into my office and basically said: ‘The AFL thinks we’re guilty of giving the players performance enhancing drugs, what do you think?’
Hird pictured with his sons Tom and Alex in October 2012. He said without the support of his family he wouldn’t still be here today
‘I’m like, ‘What do you mean, ‘what do I think?’ We definitely haven’t been doing it. I don’t know what you’re talking about?
‘Then it just snowballed from there… we set off a train that basically ended up with the players being found not guilty initially, suspended for a year in 2016.
I was sitting in the car and had some shocking thoughts about what was next
‘Literally, it was far and away the worst time in my life, but by far and away the worst time – more importantly – in 34 players’ lives and a lot of good people in football.’
Hird was disappointed he hadn’t stopped the supplements scandal sooner, with him and his wife Tania and four children being hounded by the public in the fallout of the story.
Reporters would wait outside his home every day for a scoop on the developing story.
Hird said the support from his wife Tania (pictured together) helped him through the Essendon supplements scandal
‘It came to a point midway through where the kids would stand at the glass window and they’d basically say to me: “Dad, you’re going to have a good day” or “You’re going to have a bad day”,’ Hird said.
‘I really felt for my wife because she was trying to hold our family together,’ he said. ‘She’s a very proud person and also very defensive of me because she obviously saw me going through a lot.
‘Every day you wake up and go, ‘All right, I’ve got to deal with this. I’ve got to work through it and one day this will finish’ … and fortunately it did.’
Hird believes he ‘wouldn’t still be here’ without the love and support from his family through the rough period.
His Essendon coaching career finished in 2015, leaving Hird in a dark place with no direction outside of footy.
Hird in tears after announcing his resignation as head coach of the Bombers in August 2015
‘I was sitting in the car and had some shocking thoughts about what was next,’ Hird said.
He recalled a conversation with a representative from Beyond Blue who sent a special mental health response unit from the Alfred Hospital to meet him at his home.
‘I said, “Mate, this is how I feel. I feel like I can’t go on. I’ve brought shame to my family, shame on my football club, my profession. I’ve lost my identity”,’ Hird said.
The former Brownlow medallist fell into severe depression through 2015 and 2016, which he described as being ‘at the bottom of a 30-foot well.’
‘It’s dark and every time I try to climb out of that well, another brick just hits you on the head and people are just throwing bricks at your head or you’re throwing them at your own head.
Hird opened up on his mental health demons with former Hawthorn captain Shane Crawford
‘To be helpless like that, lying in bed and hearing your kids playing outside but still not being able to move.’
His depression culminated in being hospitalised following a prescription drug overdose in his mansion in Toorak in January 2017.
The incident was described as ‘intentional’ by paramedics.
Hird has a better grip on his mental health these days and is appreciative of the journey he has taken to calm his demons.
‘The sense of happiness and joy you get from understanding how you feel now (compared) to how you felt so poorly, is a really nice feeling,’ he said.
‘Yeah, there’s up and downs … but I have a much greater appreciation for how good you can feel after knowing how bad you can feel.
‘No matter how bad things get, there is a way through it. It doesn’t happen quickly or easily, but life can be great if you can get through it.’
Hird speaks to Bombers players on the filed in July 2015. Hird is appreciative of the journey he has taken after football to calm his mental demons