Lifestyle Health

Friday 21 July 2017

Michelle Gildernew reveals two decade depression battle

Michael McHugh

NORTHERN IRELAND MP Michelle Gildernew has battled with bouts of depression for 20 years, she has revealed.

Some days the former Stormont agriculture minister from Northern Ireland had difficulty getting dressed and going out the door, she said.

The married mother of three from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, held down high pressure responsibilities at home and in the workplace as Sinn Fein's Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP but broke her leg at the start of this year and was left feeling isolated.

She hit a new low after she was asked to give up her seat at the assembly, where she chaired the health committee, and said leaving was like a wake.

But her problems started two decades ago when bereavement and injury left her vulnerable.

"It took all your energy to get dressed and get out the door," she said.

She was asked to forfeit her Stormont seat as part of Sinn Fein's commitment to ending dual political mandates. Sinn Fein MPs do not attend Westminster debates but carry out constituency work.

She said: "You try to put your best face on you. There were times when I had to muster up the strength to go and see a constituent, go to a meeting, because that was what was expected of you."

She added: "In the middle of it all you were dealing with other people's problems as well as your own. There were many days I didn't feel like going out the door."

Mrs Gildernew, 42, broke down in tears during her interview with the Impartial Reporter newspaper.

She first experienced bouts of depression 20 years ago after breaking her ankle playing football and when her beloved grandmother died. She added the injury had cost her independence.

She said: "One day you could jump in the car and go wherever you wanted and the next day you are relying on someone else to take you."

She recalled being tearful, emotional, irritable and tired.

"Every day was a struggle, every day. You didn't know if you had the energy to get through the day," she added.

She said her family forced her to get out of bed.

It was only when she spoke to a friend who also suffered from depression that she realised she needed medical help.

Her mental health problems resurfaced recently and she was left feeling really low.

She said: "I needed to be needed. Sometimes you just need to say 'I am going to stay at home and make buns with my children' and that is what I did."

She broke her leg in January this year and left the assembly last summer.

"Our last day was really tough, it was like a wake; people were calling in from other parties, my own staff members. You could not take two steps without someone saying 'We will be sorry to see you go'. It definitely was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster," she added.

She said she would miss the routine of Stormont, which had been part of her life for 14 years.

Mrs Gildernew said the community needed to help end the stigma of mental health problems.

"If we continue to brush it under the carpet then that could become one in three (people affected) or one in two," she warned.

"I am OK, I will be OK, but a lot of people out there are not and they need to speak to someone."

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