Mental health is more common than heart disease. Ian told the story of his personal struggle to stay on top of this.
Ten days ago, footballer Danny Frawley died in a single vehicle accident.   Ian began by reading a statement from Danny’s wife, Anita Frawley:
 
“On Monday, the love of my life was tragically taken from my girls and I.  Many have speculated on the cause and lead up to this tragedy.  Danny, as a champion of mental health, would want me to continue his legacy and be open with the public of the events leading up to this heartbreak.
 
While the circumstances of the event are unconfirmed and will remain uncertain until the investigations are complete, it was true that Danny’s mental health had deteriorated in recent weeks.
 
As is widely known, Danny had experienced and lived with depression dating back a number of years.  But to his credit, he had put up his hand and accepted psychiatric treatment, counselling and medication.  He recovered and returned to being the Danny of old.
 
The road leading up to last Monday’s events began 8 months ago when Danny made the decision to take himself off his prescribed medication.  At this point Danny felt invincible, like the true competitor and proud man that he was; he felt that he had beaten the disease.   In fact, he felt bullet proof, which contributed to his decision to remove himself from his support network including his psychiatric care.
 
The reason I am making this public is that I want this to be a reminder to all those grappling with mental health conditions and to those whom have made progress with their wellbeing that you should always seek help from professionals when considering making decisions surrounding your mental health, even when you feel as though you have fully recovered.
 
Our final memory of Danny is one we will cherish forever, a night spent sitting around our family table, playing board games and laughing on his 56thbirthday.  He will never be forgotten and will forever be in our hearts.
 
I would like to leave everyone with this quote from Danny, “manning up in the past was to suffer in silence, manning up now is to put your hand up”.
Ian has depression.  Like Danny, He thought he’d beaten it, but earlier this year it came back, with terrible thoughts.  With the help of doctors, Ian is now back on track, enjoying his passions of motorcycling, grandchildren and Hai.
 
Ian came from a family which was not very wealthy. They moved around a lot, in the Shepparton/Benalla region.  He was one of 6 children.  His Dad had to commute weekly to Melbourne to work, and during the week, his mother, who suffered with depression, took her anger and sadness out on her three older children, including Ian.
 
Ian’s depression and poor self-esteem has been traced back to an incident in Grade 2, when an older boy noticed Ian’s pants were his hand-me-downs from the local church.  He bullied him and Ian ended up in the school urinal.  And was then chastised by his teacher for his resultant state!   This incident, not surprisingly, still resonates with Ian.
 
Ian was “kicked out of school” at 16 and found a job in the automotive industry.  He worked his way up through different dealerships until he was able to buy into one, then several.
 
He had a great lifestyle with multiple lots of properties and car and motorbike dealerships. He had just invested in new Honda dealership when the Global Financial Crisis hit, and sales plummeted. Car sales dropped from 85 to 32 a month, and he was losing $150,000 per month.  He sold his businesses at a loss, and when he was facing having to sell his family home, he took the opportunity when his wife went away for the weekend to attempt to take his life.
 
By sheer good fortune, a mate dropped around for a beer and found Ian before it was too late.  Otherwise, this would be the end of Ian’s story.
 
He had 3 months in hospital, then 6 months of rehabilitation.  A big part of the problem with depression is that you hide the hurt and the pain from those who matter most to you, in an effort to protect them.  Because of this, Ian’s wife filed for divorce while he was in hospital.  Ian spent a year looking after his children after he left rehab, but he still has strong regret for the negative effect his depression had on his relations with his family.
 
The next step in Ian’s recovery was a 12 month motor bike ride from New York to Los Angeles, through all bar six of the states in the US.  His group raised money for mental health first aid for first responders – police, ambulance etc.  It funds a counsellor to travel with a working first responder who may be heading for mental health issues.  In this way, help can be arranged before a crisis point is reached.
 
On these Black Dog Rides (and, for Ian, whenever he rides his bike) they ride with a plush black dog on the back of their bikes.  This movement started with Apexian in WA travelling around Australia.  The dog starts conversations wherever Ian travels, and allows people to voice their issues with depression, and maybe search out some help.
 
When Ian returned to Australia after his long ride, for Christmas with his family, he intended to return to US permanently.  However, he was asked to come to Bairnsdale to help with business issues at the Big Garage.  He has spent 3 ½ years as its principal, and has now stepped back, and is mentoring GM Darren, for 2 years.  
 
After his recent relapse, Ian is now back with his psychiatrist and always on his medications.  He has the support of his wonderful partner, soon to be his wife (!!!congratulations Hai and Ian!!!). 
 
He also has the support of an old friend from 1978, Shelley, who is his pillion passenger on the US bike rides.  He talks to her each day as well, and they are best friends forever.
 
Asked how we can respond if we feel someone has mental health issues, Ian reiterated that the first reaction when you have depression is to push family and friends away.  The critical need is for someone to talk to at the right time.  He suggests just asking “is there anything I can do for you?”.  They may be most comfortable I a quiet, dark place of their choosing, and this may be where they are most amenable to a quiet conversation – a receptive listener. Encourage a GP visit, as sessions with a psychiatrist are funded via GP referral.
 
Rowena thanked Ian for sharing his experiences with us with such openness and sincerity.  We all wish him ongoing success in his taming of the black dog.
 
 
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