MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 23: Bailey Smith of the Bulldogs warms up prior to the 2019 AFL round 01 match between the Western Bulldogs and the Sydney Swans at Marvel Stadium on March 23, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos)

Western Bulldogs young gun Bailey Smith has spoken out on his mental health demons in an interview with AFL Media‘s Damian Barrett.

Smith has developed into one of the Bulldogs’ most important players since being drafted to the club with Pick 7 in the 2018 AFL draft.

The 20-year old is coming off a second-year breakout season in 2020 – where he averaged 21.2 disposals, 2.5 tackles, 3.6 inside 50s and 3.3 clearances in reduced quarters and finished seventh in the Bulldogs’ best and fairest count.

Smith opened up to Barrett on the day he broke down at the club in his first season and was supported by former teammate and Bulldogs legend Dale Morris.

“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’.”

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The gun midfielder explained that he continues to fight personal demons and believes the conversation around mental health needs to be spoken about more openly.

He said that the club has been extremely supportive of him as has his current teammates.

“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.

“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.”

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Smith stressed that it was important for him to have a life away from footy and not become too caught up in the game or his career.

It is having that work-life balance that he believes helps him deal with the pressure of being an AFL footballer.

“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.”

Asked about what perfection might look like for him, Smith responded with a simple answer: “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.”

However, he noted that on the footy side of things, winning a few premierships wouldn’t go astray.

“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.”

Smith has played 41 AFL games since making his senior debut in 2019.