A STAR hurler whose blog about his battle with depression went viral on the Internet admitted he was “astonished” by the number of young Irish people contacting him.
Conor Cusack (34), a hurler with Cloyne and Cork, said he now believes the GAA has a critical national role to play in helping people with depression receive the support and treatment they need.
Conor, the younger brother of Cork All-Ireland winning goalkeeper, Donal Og Cusack, also renewed his plea for anyone suffering from depression to urgently seek help.
“It is about two things – it is about realising you are not alone and it is about taking the first step in seeking help. It takes courage but it is the first step on the road to recovery,” he said.
The hurler said he wasn’t surprised that his Internet blog about his battle with depression received such an enormous reaction.
An article on www.independent.ie attracted over 60,000 views in the space of just four hours.
“The phone has been hopping and I’ve had loads of messages on Twitter. I made the decision to talk publicly about it because I think it is absolutely vital that people with depression know that there is help available out there.”
After an interview on RTE’s ‘PrimeTime’ programme on Tuesday evening, he was stopped almost a dozen times as he walked to his car by people saying they had friends, relatives or neighbours battling back from a similarly dark place.
“I kind of guessed that it would attract a bit of attention. The fact that I am a hurler and all that. But what I didn’t expect was the incredible number of young people that contacted me. They were really open about their feelings and emotions,” he said.
“The truth is that depression is a hidden epidemic in Ireland. I don’t think there is a single household or family in the country that hasn’t been affected by it.”
Conor, an engineer with a Cork pharmaceutical firm, said the stereotypical image of a sportsman is that they are tough and don’t talk about emotions or feelings.
“The image is that you are teak tough…you don’t talk about your feelings. They are hidden away. You aren’t supposed to have them. You aren’t even supposed to feel pain on the pitch.”
But the Cloyne hurler said he has never experienced pain like that inflicted by his depression.
The depression left him unwilling to leave his home and despairing of his future.
“I’ve had bad sports injuries - knee injuries, a hand broken in three places and a busted mouth. But there was nothing like the pain of depression. It was a horrible, horrible place to be. But, thanks to my friends, my family and my club, I made the right choices and looked for help.”
Conor said his recovery was massively boosted by the staunch support of his parents, Dan and Bonnie, and siblings, Donal, Victor and Treasa was vital as was the constant backing of his Cloyne GAA club.
“When I eventually went back to training I was almost 20 stone. But the lads were fantastic…they supported me every step of the way. I couldn’t even run a lap of the ground without someone shouting encouragement to me.”
“Someone simply walking up to me, smiling and saying ‘well done’. It meant so much.”
Conor said it was vital that people battling depression seek assistance.
“It takes bravery, courage and guts to take that first step and admit you have a problem and need help. But that is the crucial part…that and realising you are not alone.”
Now, he believes the GAA can play a critical role in offering help to those battling depression similar to the remarkable support he received.
“The GAA is a community-based organisation. I don’t think my Cloyne club is unique in the support and encouragement they offered me. I believe all GAA clubs are basically the same. Clubs around the country can offer a similar support service for others.”
Conor’s article came in the wake of the tragic death last week of Galway senior hurler, Niall Donoghue, who died just days before his 23rd birthday.
Amongst those who paid tribute to the Cork hurler for his courage in speaking out was former Munster rugby star, Alan Quinlan, who previously spoke about his own battle with depression.
“If just one person decides to seek help after reading about my story then it was all worth it,” Conor added.