The AFL’s biggest star, Lance Franklin, has described how sharing his mental health battles has instilled in him a genuine sense of self-esteem.
There are a lot of rumours that go around about me, a lot of things I can’t control. But I did feel sorry for my loved ones.
Scrutinised as much as any athlete in Australia, the 29-year-old Sydney forward says going public about his condition is the best decision he has ever made.
Before taking leave from the game on the eve of last year’s finals series to prioritise his mental health – Franklin last played a game for premiership points when the Swans met the Gold Coast Suns on September 5 – Franklin said he felt inhibited and embarrassed to seek help.
The seriousness of the unique and complex tapestry of health and general life challenges for the AFL’s most high-profile player came to a head after Franklin, who has mild epilepsy, suffered a seizure in public that required urgent medical attention. Franklin’s former club, Hawthorn, also helped him manage several epileptic episodes.
In an interview filmed five days before his opening-round return at the SCG, Franklin presented as visibly refreshed, reset and lighter in body and spirit.
While clearly marking some private territory on the topic of his treatment, Franklin was open in the interview in a way he has rarely been publicly in recent years, since his star ascended virtually from his AFL debut in 2005.
“It had been an issue for a little while with me, but … I wasn’t able to talk about it and I was a little bit embarrassed about it. But for me, being able to speak to the football club, my partner and my family was the best decision I ever made,” Franklin told Channel Seven’s Saturday Night Footy.
“At that stage not playing finals football was disappointing, but I’m so glad I did it. I feel much better about myself now and things are looking up.”
Franklin said he couldn’t estimate how prevalent mental health issues were among AFL players. “But in the general public, I think one in five people get touched at some stage,” he said.
“The biggest thing for me has been being able to talk about it. And being open and honest with my loved ones and people around me, my family and the football club through this tough period.”
When he pulled the pin on last season – his second in an unprecedented $10 million deal with the Swans – Franklin, who says premature retirement was “never a factor”, had to go inward.
“It was completely switching off and it was all about me. It wasn’t about anyone else, just about what I needed to work on.
“I don’t want to go into the details of what went on; that is private. Yes I’ve come out and said I had mental health issues … [but] I don’t want to go into the details about it [his treatment], I just want to play football.
“In 12 years of football, this is my 12th season, I’d never actually had a proper break. So for me the last two months before getting back to training, I actually needed that break to mentally and physically get myself right … I’ve never actually had that break and really used it.”
False information in the coverage of his predicament was secondary, Franklin said, but still unpleasant.
“For me, I’ve been used to it for a number of years. There are a lot of rumours that go around about me, a lot of things I can’t control. But I did feel sorry for my loved ones, my partner, my parents and the football club at that stage with the stuff that was getting thrown around.
“But at the end of the day, for me it was just about getting myself right, getting on the front foot and getting the help I needed, and I was able to do that.”
The last AFL player to kick 100 goals in a season, Franklin returned to training on December 1. Almost four months later he said: “I feel like I’m a kid again and I’m actually really enjoying it.
“I’m confident I can see out my contact at the Swans and just enjoy my football.”
This article first appeared on ‘The Age’ on 26 March 2016.