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Beauty Alison opens up on descent into living hell

Top Irish model Alison Canavan has divulged the true extent of the inner torment she felt at the hands of depression.

The battle with this disease has affected the beautiful Dubliner from her early 20s, while cutting her teeth on the international catwalk circuit, to more recently, when she gave birth to her son.

"I didn't know what was wrong with me for ages. Everything was going really well in my life and I just felt depressed and couldn't understand why. I felt very ungrateful.

"I was modelling and travelling the world when I first got depression -- there was an element of loneliness to it as I was travelling on my own all the time. I didn't want to get out of bed. I couldn't see the light -- a whole why-bother attitude engulfed me.

"I put the way I was feeling down to a number of things, such as losing my father at 21 and the big, huge lifetime changes which were happening to me," she says candidly.

The beautiful brunette uses the words "trapped in herself" and "a very steady decline" to describe the living hell she went through in those years.

"As I had never had depression before, I had no idea what was happening to me. I was withdrawing. I wasn't interested in things I would usually be interested in. I noticed my ability to communicate was declining, but I didn't want to say anything because I didn't really know what was going on, and I was embarrassed," explains the five-foot-10 model from Castleknock, who is signed to modelling agency Morgan The Agency.

Last September, she gave birth to James, but soon felt the old familiar feelings beginning to creep back -- and was diagnosed with post-natal depression.

"I knew what signs to watch out for and I knew that I was starting to get into a place which was not healthy and not good for myself or the baby.

"Anxiety is something I suffer from hugely. I got anxious in public places and was not able to get my breath and had pains in my chest. This got quite bad and if I was in a shopping centre with the baby on my own, I just panicked," said the 33-year-old, who has shared the catwalk with big-name A-listers such as Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington.

Being a single mother didn't help. Last year, while modelling in America, Alison found herself three months pregnant after separating from her long-term American boyfriend Rob Francello.

"Things fizzled out -- he still lives in San Francisco and I'm now back with my mammy in Castleknock. It's far from an ideal situation, but I'm working it out. I was with James's dad for years in the States and the relationship came to a natural end.

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"I'm not the only woman in the world to be a single mum, but there is a bit more pressure. You are on your own."

With the circumstances of her break-up out of her control, Alison feels her depression was componded by being a single mum.

"I'd be lying if I said my depression wasn't added to by being a single mum. I would never have thought about single mums before and maybe I would have judged them without thinking.

"These things happen to people for reasons -- it was a life lesson for me. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get back to work. I did too much too soon. I felt like everything was coming down on me and I was very hard on myself," said the model, who just couldn't cope with all the demands and soon reached breaking point.

"You are bursting out crying for no reason and you feel really down, and you have the feeling you can't cope if the baby is crying, and then you feel guilty because this is someone you should love," she says about her bouncing bundle of joy.

The brown-haired, brown-eyed, statuesque model is very eager to draw awareness to her condition and help remove the stigma surrounding depression. She is writing a book on her experiences as a mother, which will include a chapter on post-natal depression.

Alison Canavan speaks about her battle with depression on 'Health of the Nation' on Wednesday on RTE One at 8pm

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