Battling depression during sixth year: ‘The Leaving Cert was the final nail in the coffin that pushed me over the edge’
An Irish man who was diagnosed with depression during his Leaving Certificate revealed that the pressure he put upon himself ahead of exams worsened his mental health.
Kenneth Browne, from Gorey in Wexford, had always excelled in sports, music and academia throughout secondary school and was awarded ‘Student of the Year’ in fifth year but the pressure of impending exams added to a “downward spiral” of depression.
“In early sixth year I realised that things were starting to go downhill a bit and my moods were getting awful,” said Kenneth speaking to The Anton Savage Show.
“Some days I’d just go into my bedroom after school and wouldn’t tell anyone but I’d just burst into tears. I could lie there in bed and cry for hours. There was no explanation for it. I wanted to stay in bed all day and every day.
“I was a nightmare to live with. I lost all interest... I gave up soccer and became very introverted.”
“My mind kind of cracked and it was building up for so long. Late nights of studying until one or two in the morning and getting up for school the next day.
“The Leaving Cert was the final nail in the coffin that pushed me over the edge. It broke me.”
The change in Kenneth’s behaviour and his lack of interest in school worried his parents and an appointment was made with the local GP ahead of Christmas 2009.
“It was Christmas during sixth year and I was pushed into the GP and diagnosed then with depression and pretty quickly I was put on medication. I was placed on Lexipro and I didn’t really notice any change because it’s trial and error. It doesn’t really work for everyone. I switched over then subsequently to Effexor.
“It’s not that I was waking up seven days a week feeling miserable but it came and went,” said Kenneth.
While Kenneth had previously been very competitive and focused with his studies his motivation completely disappeared and he didn’t care about his exams for the first time in his life.
“I was in a bad place and that year just didn’t go well for me,” he said.
“I remember sitting outside the exam hall, I had a specific room for my concentration, and I remember people were running up and down panicking bits of paper for last minute cramming and I was sitting there complacent. I just did not care what happened.”
Despite his difficult year, Kenneth managed to get 390 points in the Leaving Cert but the score was way off the ambitious 500 points he saw for himself the previous summer.
“Points wise I ended up getting 390, it wasn’t what I needed and I didn’t get anything on my CAO.
“Personally I would have hoped for the five hundreds. It didn’t bother me at that time though. When the CAO offers came out, it was tough to watch my friends go off. Looking back there is no way I could have gone off to college at that stage,” he said.
Following his results, Kenneth’s mom managed to get him a job in a local deli, which he said allowed him a pressure-free year to recover and “get himself right”.
“I was lucky with my mom. She knew the local man in Supervalu and I got a job working there. Now I was serving the school kids behind the deli. It was incredibly beneficial. I had no more pressure of school.
“I went in every day and made a few rolls and went home and forgot about it.
“I wanted to get myself right.
“Throughout that year I gradually began to get better,” said Kenneth.
However, the year away from academia allowed Kenneth to rediscover his ambition and he realised he saw more for himself than life at home in Wexford.
“When you’re seeing the same people come in every single day ordering the same two slices of ham, that’s small town Wexford. I thought that this wasn’t me and I had a bit more ambition than where I was currently. I saw that there was a back door route into DCU if you can prove that your exam performance is affected by an illness as mine was.
“I reapplied to the CAO the following year and I got accepted to DCU and I never looked back,” he said.
Kenneth is now a graduate of Communications and last year was given the title of Student Union President in DCU. The graduate offered encouragement to students who are disappointed by their CAO offers today.
“If the front door isn’t open go around the back or come back later and ring the bell.
"If someone doesn’t have any offers in front of them today this is when you have to stand up. There’s a grieving process involved but get on with it and reassess. By no means is this over,” he said.