Warrnambool AFL legend Wayne Schwass turned to drugs and alcohol after he was diagnosed with depression, he told the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health last week.
He said he was diagnosed two weeks after he suffered a nervous breakdown.
"I lost control of my emotions," Mr Schwass said.
"I drove home and parked the car outside my house. My fiance was inside and I sat in the car for an hour-and-a-half because of shame."
Mr Schwass said he turned to drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication.
"I abused alcohol, I smoked an incredible amount of marijuana and I used any other drug I could get my hands on," he said.
Despite this, he still continued to perform on the footy field.
"However, all that I had in my emotional toolbox was alcohol and drugs," he said.
Mr Schwass said he kept his depression a secret for 12 years.
"I did everything I could to protect the key relationships in my life because I was of the belief that once people knew about my condition, they'd lose respect and walk out of my life," he said.
When his diagnosis was shared in a newspaper in March 2006, Mr Schwass said he was able to stop pretending and start living again.
Mr Schwass said he doesn't use the term mental illness.
"I say that I manage well-being," he said.
Mr Schwass also told the commission about sharing the photo of him with a premiership medal around his neck in 1996 after being part of the winning North Melbourne side.
"My reason for sharing that post was that I wanted to challenge the way that we, as individuals and as a society, think about mental health and in particular suicide," he said.
"That moment in 1996 was my sporting Mount Everest - I'd just become a premiership player in front of a large crowd and TV audience, but everybody bar two people at the ground that day, my wife and my doctor, realised I was in the middle of a really difficult personal battle."
Mr Schwass said he was concerned about the stigma that surrounded mental health issues.
"Stigma in the community is the reason I didn't speak publicly for 12-and-a-half years," he said.
Mr Schwass said he had a paralysing fear of what people would say, do or think in response.
"I suspect that stigma is a contributing factor in why we lose so many people to suicide and that's why I'm passionate about this issue," he said.
Mr Schwass said society did wonderful things for people experiencing physical conditions, but not for people living with mental health conditions.
He said he believed stigma existed because people were scared or confronted by mental health conditions.
Mr Schwass told the commission that he founded Puka Up, a social enterprise, three years ago.
He said the goal was to create safe places for people to have open conversations about their health.
"At Puka Up we are involved in suicide prevention because we believe every person matters," Mr Schwass said.
Mr Schwass said he believed in shining a really bright light on suicide.
"It's uncomfortable, but we are prepared to do it," he said.
"Normalising mental health and emotional well-being is really important because if we can do that, we'll prevent people from ending their lives."
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