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He'd Sit In His Car And Cry Before Games. Now AFL Star Alex Fasolo Is Tackling Depression

Guilt and shame are behind him, and he's no longer afraid to talk about it.

14/09/2017 11:37 AM AEST | Updated 14/09/2017 11:37 AM AEST
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You get a great big high five from us , Alex.

Alex Fasolo is one brave man. He's also an honest and eloquent man.

The Collingwood forward, who was his club's leading goal kicker in 2016, and who missed a match in season 2017 to deal with his depression, has penned a column for sports website PlayersVoice which digs really deep into the issue of his mental health.

The column opens with Fasolo talking about his darkest times -- times when thoughts of death dominated his consciousness. But this is not a bleak column. It's a wonderful column of hope, of learning to cope, of listening, of sharing, of owning his illness for what it is, and of destigmatisation.

Indeed, it's the perfect column for RUOK Day -- the day which encourages meaningful conversations with anyone who you might think is suffering from depression, or who just deserves a chirpy voice inquiring after their welfare.

One thing many men feel about depression is shame. They turn the illness on themselves, as though the problem is somehow their fault. As Fasolo writes:

"I still feel like a bit of a sook, and it's a bit of the footy culture of just get on with it, just get it done, find a way."

Fasolo faced incredible stress just making it to the footy club some days.

"I'd sit in my car and cry for about 20 minutes. Then I'd get up the courage and I'd drive into the club and I'd get to the car park, and then I'd sit in the car and cry for another 20 minutes."

He also went through the denial phase, which is a very typical male reaction to depression.

"I was in denial for a good six to 12 months. Probably longer. And then even when the doctor told me, 'You need to look into this,' I was still in denial. And I was heading down a really destructive pathway because I didn't want to feel anything."

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He's kicking goals on the mental health front as well now.

Fasolo self-medicated through drink. He also disengaged with people despite being a super-extroverted person by nature. But eventually he said to himself "something's not right here'.

"If I was to be really honest with myself, it's something I've probably been battling for three or four years. But I believe it's a maturity thing. When you're young, you're not as in tune with your emotions and your body, so it's easy just to dismiss things.

And then as I've started to get a bit older, I think I've found myself looking around and going, 'Jeez, I'm finding myself in some moments where I'm just innately sad for absolutely no reason'."

A crucial thing Fasolo has come to understand is that his illness is nobody's fault.

"I used to always say to my Dad, 'This is bullshit. I have no reason to be sad. I've had a privileged childhood, I haven't got any trauma in my past, I have a loving family,' and he was like, ''Well, it's just like people have dodgy hammies and knees and your brain needs to be a little bit tinkered with, and that's that'.

Despite all the personal advances he's made in terms of accepting his illness, Fasolo says he still finds it awkward to talk about depression.

"I don't want it to be, 'There's Alex Fasolo' and then the second thing people say is, 'He's got depression'. But right or wrong, that's still how I feel.

I think it's got a stigma surrounding it because, I mean, if I was on the other side of the fence I'd be the same. There's a stigma surrounding it because there's a real lack of understanding around it."

But he's doing what he can to help foster understanding, and encouraging others to do likewise.

"My advice to anyone else in this situation: stop being in denial. Just go and see someone. And talk to your mates. Talk to anyone you can.

If you think something's not right, just say something. I just know as soon it came out in the open –- I still didn't want to talk to anyone about it, but at least things become more clear.

Depression is a muddled, confused mind, basically, and as soon as you get some clarity and a little bit of information, half the battle's won."

Alex Fasolo's column is really great reading. In fact it's more than OK, it's fantastic. It's exactly the sort of conversation-starter which RUOK Day is all about, and you can read it in full here.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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