Saturday 25 January 2020

'People see you living this great life, but little did they know' - Dublin footballer Shane Carthy's battle with depression

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Shane Carthy lifts the Sam Maguire in 2013. Photo: Stephen McCarth /Sportsfile
Shane Carthy lifts the Sam Maguire in 2013. Photo: Stephen McCarth /Sportsfile
Shane Carthy is currently writing a book and studying business management. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

To the outside world, Shane Carthy was living the dream. He was a fully fledged Dublin footballer before he had finished his Leaving Cert. And by the time he started college, he had been part of the All-Ireland-winning squad at just 18.

Life was good for Carthy. Or at least it should have been.

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Carthy has just turned 25 now. The last few years should have been the most carefree of his life. Instead he's battled depression and anxiety and had suicidal thoughts, to the extent that he walked away from the thing he loved the most - playing for Dublin.

The road to recovery is long and difficult. For Carthy, the graph will go down as well as up. Days will be good and bad.

At times the unknown enemy within must have seemed unbeatable. But he's getting there, equipping himself with the tools to cope and helping anyone he can along the way.

This year he has given 90 different talks about the places he has been to in his mind and the journey he's been on. As he pulls up his chair, he's happy to tell his story for the 91st time if there's even the slightest chance it might help someone.

Prominence

Carthy's mental health issues first came to national prominence in 2014. The previous year, he had lined out in a league game in Jim Gavin's first season in charge. He played a schools game on the Wednesday and took to the field against Cork the following weekend. Outwardly, he was living a young man's dream.

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Internally, Carthy was struggling. He just didn't know what it was or how to deal with it. Football was a release rather than a pressure but the following year, he sought help. He kicked three points as Dessie Farrell's Dublin beat Meath in a Leinster Under-21 final but by that stage he had already sought help in St Patrick's hospital. Carthy wouldn't play again that year.

When Carthy talks about his battles, there's both a vulnerability and a steel to him. Reliving those dog days for others to pore over can't be easy. But maybe by confronting it in the way he has he gains strength.

And perhaps the first sign that he could recover and help others came in a decision he made a few weeks after that Meath game. He had picked up an injury late in that match.

He could have used that as an excuse for him missing the rest of Dublin's run to an All-Ireland final. But with time came the idea that having fought so long on his own, no one else should have to suffer in silence. If he told his story, he thought, it might just save someone.

"Mick Galvin was a selector at the time and we were having that conversation and I just faced up to the fact that I need to look after my mental health.

"So I asked him to rule me out for the semi-final with a view that I'd be out of St Pat's in a couple of weeks and be good for the All-Ireland final.

"After another couple of weeks it became clear that I wouldn't be ready and I said to Dessie that I wasn't ready.

"I had gotten a bit of head space in those weeks and I said, 'I want to make this public'.

"I had unclouded my thoughts and I was thinking, 'God, I had gone through that for two years and I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.'

"People see you living this great life, playing for Dublin having all this success but little did they know. So I wanted, in my own therapeutic way as well, to get it out there and let people know that this chap living this idyllic life can go through difficult times, as can you.

"The decision was made in hospital. (Farrell) came into St Pat's and I asked him would he let the press know where I am and it was made public."

It was a selfless act. He would have been well within his rights to recover in private and on his own terms. But if he has any regrets, it's that he didn't seek help sooner.

"If you had asked me when I went into St Pat's in the first couple of days that would have been the last thing on my mind (to go public).

"But I couldn't make sense of what it was in my head, I couldn't have a train of thought, there were so many thoughts in my head I couldn't make sense of it but as I started to uncloud my thoughts I was thinking a lot more clearly.

"Maybe it was a selfless thing to do. It's something that I don't regret. My only regret in my whole story is that I didn't speak up sooner because I've seen the journey I've been on.

"It has been difficult and I'll never shy away from that fact. I should have spoken up in the first couple of months as opposed to leaving it for two years as it was, staying silent, and getting to the depths where I was having thoughts of dying by suicide in my later months.

"I'd never, never want it to get to that point ever again."

There are still difficult days, but he has coping mechanisms in place that make sure the bad days won't plunge to the depths they previously did. He has big plans for 2020.

He's studying business management in DCU on a GPA scholarship, he's also writing a book that is due to be published early in the New Year while there's the small matter of trying to force his way back into the Dublin set-up.

"Where my anxiety comes from is when I'm not busy or doing something so I'm trying to juggle all that and the beauty of it is there is going to be natural stresses around that, I am going to be under pressure for a book deadline, academic side of it or sport whatever it may be but I'm a lot better able to manage my stress levels.

"And when I notice I feel stressed I can take a step back, look after myself recharge and go again."

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