FOR FIVE years Danny Frawley became a public advocate for men's mental health without ever revealing to the public how severe his own struggle was.
But now the Coroner's report into his death has revealed details of his tragic end, there is a strong determination among family and the Bungaree community, to which Mr Frawley always proudly belonged, to keep championing awareness of mental health issues as his legacy.
The Victorian Coroners Court finding into the St Kilda Foootball Club great's death, released on Tuesday, stated that according to his wife Anita, Mr Frawley never fully revealed the extent of his struggles with anxiety and depression to the general public or to his friends, "or how it affected his closest relationships".
The report details a complex investigation into Mr Frawley's mental deterioration, particularly with a mental breakdown in 2014 in the wake of navigating the Essendon Football Club drugs saga in his role as AFL Coaches Association chief.
A key finding of the Coronial inquest was the inconclusive effects chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease linked to repeated head blows, had in his death. The report noted CTE, which is only able to be diagnosed after death, was a "potential contributor" to the depression Mr Frawley experienced in the years before his death.
Mr Frawley died in a single-car crash with a tree in Millbrook on September 9, 2019.
His nephew Tom Frawley said it was vital to keep talking and raising awareness for mental health. Tom Frawley said the more people talked about mental health, the more people could see it, could feel it and not only break down the stigma, but realise hope.
Mr Frawley had been mentoring Tom to navigate a bi-polar diagnosis, including linking Tom up with psychiatrists he trusted.
Tom had been in denial and, with Mr Frawley's death, reached a point when he could no longer care for himself. A month after Danny's funeral, Tom was in psychiatric care on the Sunshine Coast, where his parents now live.
In care, Tom saw video of two-time heavyweight world champion Tyson Fury knocked out and dedicate the match to anyone struggling with mental health.
This sparked Tom thinking how he could make an impact and it took a year for Tom to share his story via his first amateur boxing fight in November. Tom dedicated the fight to Mr Frawley and has raised $10,000 for mental health charity One in Five of which Mr Frawley was an ambassador.
Tom spoke in depth with his family - including Mr Frawley's daughters Chelsea, Danielle and Keeley - before going public with his story.
"I feel like I have a calling to help people now...I feel people need more good stories in mental health," Tom Frawley said. "Like any illness or injury, you can overcome mental illness.
"It's different for everyone and you really need to take ownership in yourself. I remember the pain I caused my family...I am so lucky for their support, I am so lucky to have had private health cover and even when I was suicidal, I felt I had the right tools to hold on."
Tom is working with One in Five on a short video to keep sharing his story.
Danny Frawley and his wife Anita had hopes of a new life, moving away from football to horse racing in Ballarat, in the year before his death.
The coronial finding states that by January 2019 the couple had been working to build up their Ballarat racing property and "Mr Frawley's demeanour seemed to be the best it had been since his breakdown in 2014".
Re-launched as Sylvan Lodge Equine Centre in partnership with Anita's sister, Kelly Amoore, the Miners Rest base specialises in thoroughbred pre-training, agistment and rehabilitation.
The finding stated it was about this time, Mr Frawley told his wife he had ceased taking his medications with the permission of his psychiatrist.
Mr Frawley had also stopped seeing his psychiatrist of five years for anxiety and depression, seemingly feeling "bulletproof".
In these five years, Mr Frawley had also become a public advocate for men's mental health. As well as One in Five, Mr Frawley was an ambassador for fellow AFL retiree Wayne Schwass' mental health organisation Pukka Up.
He spoke on mental health at his former school, St Patrick's College.
Mr Frawley was also a passionate ambassador for Ballarat Cycle Classic, raising money for the homegrown Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute.
The Classic last year launched the Spud 100, a 160-kilometre (or 100-mile) ride taking in his hometown Bungaree in his honour.
The Courier understands Mr Frawley had been working with Classic organisers prior to his death on a challenging course for experienced riders.
Mr Frawley was a decorated AFL footballer, chalking up 240 games for St Kilda from 1984 to 1995. He captained the Saints for nine seasons.
The report states during his playing career, Mr Frawley sustained about 20 concussions. This included loss of consciousness, severe headaches, vomiting and at least five hospital admissions for his symptoms.
Coroner Paresa Spanos noted Mr Frawley had begun playing football as a junior before his personality had fully developed and that he had retired from the game before the discovery of CTE and implementation of preventative actions in the game. Judge Spanos noted this all "confounds evaluation" of CTE on his personality.
Mr Frawley was Richmond's senior AFL coach for five seasons, from 2000, and experienced "significant distress" from fan and media treatment towards the end of time at Tigerland.
When he left Richmond, Mr Frawley took up radio commentary and his AFL Coaches Association role. His wife told the inquest this was when she first noticed signs of mental ill health: "Mr Frawley's exit from Richmond had left him with low feelings of self-worth, and on the other hand, his media career fed his ego and feelings of self-importance." And his big mood swings were only seen by family.
Mr Frawley's behaviour became more erratic during the Essendon drugs scandal when he had to support all coaches but be seen to condemn the Bombers' actions.
By about June 2014, Mr Frawley began treatment under a psychiatrist and presented with a history of depressive breakdowns from stressors stemming from his AFL Coaches Association job. Behaviours included severe insomnia, poor decision-making and conduct that caused conflict in his marriage.
"To his family, Mr Frawley would lie in bed all week and be extremely needy," the report read. "But he would be able to put on a brave 'public face' and give the appearance of normal functioning."
Mr Frawley maintained a "good therapeutic relationship" with his psychiatrist but by early January 2019 had stopped seeing him.
The psychiatrist had deemed before Mr Frawley's breakdown in 2014, he had an likable "knockabout guy" personality but with a narcissistic need for affection and affirmation. By February 2019, his media presence waned and, with new talent emerging, his income dropped.
Mr Frawley stopped turning up for planned bike rides with friends and began drinking excessively. He became more self-absorbed and put on weight.
Mr Frawley re-started sessions with his psychiatrist in August. The psychiatrist also found Mr Frawley's self-worth was strongly tied to how he felt his wife viewed him and their relationship.
The weekend before his death, Mrs Frawley said they needed a break to give themselves space. That weekend, on the Sunday, Mr Frawley celebrated his 56th birthday with family.
He died the next day.
Ballarat and District Suicide Awareness Network chairman and policeman Des Hudson said mental health was an extremely complex issue and there was never a one-size-fits-all for treatment and help.
Leading Senior Constable Hudson said the network encouraged people to engage with professional services and to find what works best for them. He encouraged people to keep hope.
There is still so much we don't know about mental health. It's not just something that can be cured by taking tablets...it is a case-by-case basis.Police Leading Senior Constable Des Hudson, Ballarat and District Suicide Awareness Network
"There is still so much we don't know about mental health. It's not just something that can be cured by taking tablets...it is a case-by-case basis," Leading Senior Constable Hudson said.
The key message, he said, was to keep talking and raising awareness for mental health and where to find support.
Leading Senior Constable Hudson said people like Tom Frawley speaking up on their experience were important.
"For anyone in a dark place to focus on reasons to hope, reasons for living and to know they are loved," Leading Senior Constable Hudson said. "We need to encourage people to have conversations and listen."
Tom Frawley is preparing to return to Victoria for the first time since his uncle's funeral. His return will be for a boxing training stint.
This comes as his cousin James Frawley, an AFL premiership player with Hawthorn, prepares to make his debut with St Kilda. James Frawley broke his retirement in the off-season for the chance to work with the Saints young backlines. He will wear number 24, which was his uncle's first playing number with the Saints.
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