When Michael Dolingo was diagnosed with depression in high school, the strategies he was given - like positive thinking, mindfulness or even medication - didn't help.
Instead, the Warilla man - now 21 - found purpose and strength at his local boxing gym.
"My trainer was the one who really bridged the gap and helped out on my confidence," Mr Dolingo said.
"I just felt as though I was able to prove to myself, I felt physically alive and useful and it was just a major outlet to remove stress from my life as well as get that dopamine working out."
He is now hoping to turn his love of going to the gym into a career, and has been studying a Certificate III and IV in fitness at Shellharbour TAFE.
From next year, the TAFE will incorporate a mental health unit into its fitness courses, as research shows the number one reason people attend the gym is now mental health.
"With fitness influencers promoting mindfulness and good mental health, we're seeing a shift where people are starting to go to the gym in order to focus mostly on mental health," Mr Dorrigo said.
"Physical health is a secondary option especially for the younger generation."
That is why it was so important for personal trainers to know the warning signs of mental illness, he said.
"The gym is often the first area you might see someone opening up or they'll be trying to de-stress, so a PT who is trained in the signs of mental health and signs of someone being distressed, depressed, anxious, we essentially act as that first contact," he said.
"Some clients often are not willing to take that first step out of their way to talk to their GP and talk to the psychologist, so we are trained to give referrals and we're also able to work within mental health plans to bridge that gap."
CEO of peak fitness body AusPlay Barrie Elvish applauded the move to make mental health part of fitness courses, after an AusPlay survey found 31 per cent of respondents were motivated to exercise to maintain mental wellness.
"Physical activity is just as important for our mental health as it is for our physical health and most people work or get active to feel better, rather than look better," he said.
"Understanding mental health and the benefits activity has on our mental fitness from the start of someone's career journey into fitness will ensure future generations of fitness professionals have the right skills and qualities to benefit their clients."
Shellharbour TAFE will offer the Certificate III in Fitness in 2024, with an elective unit titled "working with people with a mental health condition," which was included after consultation with industry.