"I spoke out, and that was what saved my life..."

Eoghan Ó Conchúir spoke to Tadhg Evans about battling depression, his love of family, and his deep gratitude to staff at University Hospital Kerry

Eoghan ‘Clais’ Ó Conchúir on the pier at Cuas in west Kerry. Taking time out for a walk and listening to the sea are a big part of his recovery. Photo by Declan Malone
Eoghan ‘Clais’ Ó Conchúir on the pier at Cuas in west Kerry. Taking time out for a walk and listening to the sea are a big part of his recovery. Photo by Declan Malone

Among the most recent and popular interviews to appear on The Kerryman's pages looked into the story of Clochán's Adrian O'Connor, a young man who sustained a brain injury in London 14 years ago and was given little hope of survival, let alone walking or talking again.

Roll forward ten half marathons and one full marathon, it would be the height of understatement to say he confounded medical predictions.

Eoghan Ó Conchúir - affectionately known as 'Clais' locally in reference to his home townland in the Feothanach area - wasn't the first to gain inspiration from the Clochán man, but few felt as empowered by Adrian's story as the 30-year-old.

While giving Adrian a lift over the Conor Pass to Dingle, he listened and talked to a man with a story that's almost unique.

In the months leading up to this encounter, Eoghan had battled and taken control of depression, an illness which nearly claimed his life. Today, Eoghan sits in Dingle's Benners Hotel knowing that tens of thousands have listened to his call on Facebook for people to ignore the stigma that sometimes goes with depression and take steps like those which saved him last summer.

"Adrian wasn't given much hope by his medics - and he's done a marathon since, a few half marathons. It's inspirational," Eoghan says as he pours some brown sugar into a "badly wanted" cup of coffee. "I have my second chance, too, and meeting Adrian spurred me to do the Facebook video. I'm not doing it for myself but for those afraid to speak out."

For all the messages out there which show us depression isn't picky when selecting those it chases down, the last traces of stigma have clung on as stickily as the illness itself. Eoghan is further living proof that achievements in work and life don't provide immunity from depression. Married to Mary and living with their 10-month-old son in Brandon, a gem on the north of the Corca Dhuibhne peninsula, Eoghan isn't short of home comforts. He also worked as a healthcare assistant and recently qualified as a Special Needs Assistant, further evidence that 'the boy's done good'.

The same could be said of the many men and women Eoghan met following his admission to University Hospital Kerry (UHK) last summer. Over those three weeks, Eoghan got to know people of all professions, aged from 18 to 90 - and this is a big part of what he's trying to drill home: depression, he feels, is something most people suffer with at some point in their lives.

Initially "a small bit embarrassed", Eoghan found the courage last June to speak to loved ones and take his first steps towards days which are "average to good, most of the time". It's what he needed to do to pin down an illness that had gnawed away at his sleep; left him with constant pressure headaches; put a shake in his knee that "could have lifted a cavity block"; and had him thinking of leaving this world long before his time.

"I take some medication, but the main difference now is that I keep life simple. It's hard, sometimes, with a 10-month-old baby, Micheál, but I like to have my day planned out," he says. "I take 20 minutes for myself every day: I put away the phone, go for a walk, take in some fresh air - it cleans my mind.

"But I was lucky because I spoke out. We all know in every village, every town in Kerry, the country, it has affected people. Maybe some people were afraid to speak out and they're not around now. The stigma that's there is causing harm.

"I spoke out, and that was what saved my life; by that June bank holiday weekend, when I broke down with my wife, Mary, and my sister, Niamh, I felt it was a case of either speaking out or I was going to consider suicide. I just thought I could manage it myself but, when I look back now, there's no way I could have done that… What I was did was like putting an egg into a frying pan in December and leaving it there until June. My brain was cremated by summer."

With that single move, opening up to two people whom he loves and trusts, months of pressure began to melt away.

It hadn't been long since Mary and Eoghan had moved from Dublin, where he had buried himself in work, often following his day work with night classes as he pursued his goal of becoming an SNA.

But rural life isn't without its tests, either. As the long winter had its say, animals starved on fodderless farms nationwide. Eoghan helps out on the family farm in Feothanach, and while his flock of 120 sheep made it through the crisis, he admits the stories and images that dominated the 2018 farming year shook him.

By the time the frost and snow gave way to the rainless weeks of last summer, there wasn't a budge from the grass but sheep prices plunged.

Such events are never welcome - but with a baby at home, they become all the more serious.

These stresses were part of what led to a three-week stay in UHK, but aside from the heartache of facing up to visits from Mikey, his "leasainm" for little Micheál, Eoghan never doubted he was in the right place to get better - and any embarrassment he once felt over his illness had faded away by the time he took to Facebook in December.

"I said in the video to speak out to someone you love and someone you trust, but your doctors and good charities like Pieta House or AWARE are also there," he says. "Along with my family in Brandon and Feothanach, I owe a lot to the medical people in UHK, too; I can't thank them enough.

"When I rang SouthDoc on the June bank holiday, there were no beds for me until the following Tuesday, but that's not the medics' fault, that's the fellas in the suits and ties, even though it's the people working on the ground that are down with it. It's a thankless job, really.

"You never hear a good word about them - but I'm saying right now that they were brilliant to me. I just hope that people will listen now to my video and try to get the help I got."

If you've been affected by the content in this article, you can contact a number of groups, such as AWARE (1800 80 48 48), Pieta House (066 716 3660), and Samaritans (116 123).