Sport Gaelic Football

Saturday 17 March 2018

'I'm still here' – GAA stars breaking the taboo of mental illness

Wayne Hutchinson
Wayne Hutchinson


In recent times, GAA figures have been at the forefront of bringing the thorny issue of mental illness into the public domain.

The Dublin County Board last night issued a statement to say that young football star Shane Carthy is “making progress with his illness”.

The man-of-the-match from the Leinster U-21 Final is also a member of Jim Gavin’s senior squad and his plight will re-open the topic of mental illness in the country.

“Over the past few years the media and GAA players have been to the forefront in helping to promote positive messages about mental health and this is to be very much welcomed and supported,” the statement concluded.

Here are those said players who have bravely spoken of their personal experiences.

Wayne Hutchinson

Just last month Waterford hurler Wayne Hutchinson revealed his own inner demons, describing his clinical diagnosis 11 years ago and how he contemplated suicide only last year.

The 29 year-old said he knew as a teenager he should be out having fun, but “that wasn't my reality, and I knew that wasn't right," he wrote in his blog post

"I needed help."

The Deise hurler says that even now every day can be a challenge, describing the day he wrote the post when tears were rolling down his cheeks before the realisation that he isn’t the only person in this position.

His account of the day of his suicide attempt, on a “cold, wet day in January” is particularly heart-breaking.

“I'd planned what I was going to do well in advance, right down to date, time and place. I was going to end it all,” he wrote.

“I waited for everyone else to go to bed. And when they did, the blackest of darknesses consumed me as I lay there, as I so often have, staring at the ceiling.”

“I quietly made my way downstairs, but all the while I was shaking. I was intent on going to the back of the house and into a forested area nearby.

“Just as I'm about to make my way outside to end it all, I hear a noise upstairs, followed by footsteps, gingerly making their way downstairs.

“I leave the door slightly ajar to see who it is. It's Mam, and she's getting a glass of water.

“Unknowingly, she has intervened again to make a difference in my life; those footsteps, to me, were a sign from God: I need to keep fighting. I owe it to Mam

“The following day, when the house was empty, I return to the spot where I'd planned to end it all. I pick up my stuff and am filled with shame and embarrassment.

“I place the stuff in a bag, drive to Shannon Cliff in Dunmore East, take the rope out of my bag and throw it off the cliff and into the sea below. The rope is gone. I'm still here."

Alan O’ Mara

In May of last year, goalkeeper Alan O’Meara lifted the on the depression which engulfed him and revealed that he was rescued from suicidal thoughts by "the visualisation of my parents at my funeral".

His dark story painted a stark picture with one particular passage recalling a journey made after a challenge match in December 2011.

“There is nothing to catch my attention on this road; nothing to distract my brain.”

“It's just me in the car, me and the voice that has become more and more prominent lately. It is getting louder. It gets to the point where it muffles out the radio. I keep driving. I keep thinking, questioning and wondering.”

Alan O'Mara, Cavan. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

“How have I got to this point? The point where there is even a thought of swerving my car into the concrete wall on the side of the motorway.”

“I feel trapped; it's just me and that voice in the fast lane of a motorway. Deep down, somewhere, I'm aware that is not a good mix.

“The concrete wall to my right looks so appealing. How easy it would be just to swerve into it and finish it all. The voice whispers in my ear: ‘Will anybody even care if I do it?' The visualisation of my parents at my funeral rescues me from this horrible train of thought. I wind the window down and let the crisp air hit my face.”

“Eventually I get home and I want to switch off. I'm tired, I'm cranky and I've had a realisation that I am depressed.”

Conor Cusack

Former Cork hurler and brother of Donal Og bravely opened up on his battles with mental illness last year, something which has been a huge part of his life.

Conor won widespread admiration for publicly speaking out over depression, suicide and his life since.

His frank account of his darkest hour, where he planned to take his own life, was instrumental in bringing such a secretive and taboo topic into public discussion.

Conor Cusack now devotes a significant portion of his time to helping others battle depression

Here Conor recalls that fateful day.

“My desire for death was now much stronger than my desire for living so I made a decision.”

“I had the rope hidden in my room. I knew there was a game on a Saturday evening and that my father and the lads would be gone to that. After my Mother and sister would be gone to Mass, I would drive to the location and hang myself. I didn’t feel any anxiety about it. It would solve everything, I thought.”

“For some reason  my Mother never went to Mass. I don’t know why but she didn’t go. It was a decision on her part that saved my life.”

“I came to realise that depression was not my enemy but my friend.”

Support for young GAA star as he battles depression

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