Monday 23 September 2019

#MindYourself: Panic attacks were worse than cancer, says TD Penrose

Willie Penrose
Willie Penrose
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

One of the country's longest-serving TDs has revealed for the first time how he suffered severe panic attacks for six years - which were "worse" than being treated for prostate cancer.

Labour TD Willie Penrose (58), who represents Longford-Westmeath, said a combination of stressful events put him under huge mental strain.

They included his mother's sudden death and the controversial closure of Columb military barracks in Mullingar.

The barracks' closure led to him resigning as Minister for Housing and Planning.

"I have since been diagnosed with prostate cancer and successfully treated for it but the panic attacks were the worst of all," he said.

"I don't smoke or drink. As a TD you carry everyone's burden as well as your own. People's stories are harrowing and play on your mind. Sometimes you wake at night and wonder how can you devise a solution.

"I was placed on medication for the panic attacks and had psychotherapy to learn techniques on how to deal with them.

"There are people out there with significantly more problems."

His ­cancer was detected just months after the 2011 election.

It was caught early and successfully treated with brachytherapy, a form of internal radiotherapy, he told the Irish Independent.

He had also undergone a hip operation and lost seven stone through diet and exercise.

He will decide early next month whether to run in the general election.

Meanwhile, leading psychiatrist Dr John Hillery said one in five members of the Oireachtas is likely to suffering from some form of psychological distress.

"They are no different to the general population and politics can lead to a very unhealthy lifestyle," said Dr John Hillery, Director of Communications and Public Education at the College of Psychiatrists.

Dr Hillery, who ran as a Fianna Fail candidate in Clare in the 2011 general election, grew up in a political household as the son of the late Uachtaran na hEireann Patrick Hillery.

"Everything we recommend for people to reduce stress is harder to do for a politician. I have watched people I know in politics who have an enormous amount of driving to do - for instance, to try to be in two places at the same time.

"You must be in the Dáil and also at a funeral in west Kerry."

After an election, an unsuccessful candidate can face a "huge sense of loss and let down. There is a sense you have let other people down."

He called for greater teamwork among TDs. "If every TD in the constituency agrees that some time is sacrosanct, then they will all know that.

"What happens in multi- seat constituencies is that if one takes time out, they fear someone else will be exploiting that."

He would be happy to work on an all-party basis to address issues of political stress.

Irish Independent

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