Why talking about depression matters
Former Waterford hurler Maurice Shanahan opens up about his battle with depression, and why he is encouraging people to start a conversation
GAA star Maurice Shanahan shares his mental health journey for the Talking Depression campaign
GAA All Star and former Waterford hurler Maurice Shanahan is now comfortable to talk about the depression which almost overwhelmed him in 2014. He knows from experience that opening up and talking about mental health not only helps him but can help others facing similar difficulties too.
At the time however, talking was the last thing he wanted to do.
Sport has been a huge part of Shanahan’s life for as long as he can remember. “When we went to primary school, the first thing we were given was a hurley and a ball, not a book,” he laughs.
The 31-year-old played for his club, Lismore, from a young age and has been on its senior team since he was 16. He began playing for Waterford when he was 18, and spent 10 years representing his county.
Though at the top of his game, and in peak physical condition, inside, things were less healthy. “My older brother Dan is a hero in Waterford and when I was 15 or 16, people would be saying that I was going to follow in his footsteps, but I felt I wasn’t making it,” he explains.
Despite his on-field success, his inner critic grew louder. “It crept up on me and got bigger and bigger, to the point where I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to go to work, and at home all I wanted to do was lock myself in my room.”
Sport, which had always been his happy place, became part of the problem.
“When I was playing for Waterford, and I played badly, I let it affect me. If I played well, that didn’t matter because the next week was coming. I was my own worst enemy too, I was reading what people were saying in the newspapers. That didn’t help.”
When people asked if I was suffering, I said no. I didn’t want them to know
Shanahan comes from a very close family, whom he knew were worried about him, but he felt he couldn’t worry them even more by talking to them. Instead, “I bottled it up inside me,” he explains.
Looking back, he wishes he had opened up. “Dad was battling cancer at the time and he knew there was something up with me but I was a sports guy, I wasn’t going to say something was wrong,” he explains. “So, when people asked if I was suffering, I said no. I didn’t want them to know. I didn’t want to make a fuss.”
Instead, the pressure built up inside him until an attempted suicide brought his problems into the open.
Now he can see just how skewed his thinking was. “I actually thought I’d be doing them a favour without me around anymore because they were so worried about me. Looking back now, I know I’d have wrecked their lives.”
He understands how hard it can seem to seek help. “I wasn’t going to say I was suffering from depression because it might have seemed a weakness,” he says.
Shanahan, and fellow GAA star Nicole Owens are taking part in Talking Depression, a new campaign by Janssen Sciences Ireland UC to support open and honest conversations.
Ireland has one of the highest rates of mental illness in Europe.1 Despite this high incidence, just under half (47 per cent) of Irish adults do not feel equipped to start that conversation with a family member or friend we suspect is experiencing mental illnesses such as depression, according to new research from Janssen.
There was also concern about upsetting the person they are speaking to (81 per cent), saying the wrong thing (79 per cent), or not understanding the other person’s experience (73 per cent).2
To help take that first step, a new resource, The Little Book of Big Conversations has been created to support people living with all forms of depression, as well as their family members and friends. It is full of practical advice to help make those big conversations about depression a little bit easier.
Maurice Shanahan speaks with his brother Dan for the Talking Depression campaign by Janssen Ireland UC. Video supplied by Janssen Ireland.
Shanahan knows first-hand how important conversation is. If a friend seems down, he texts to ask if they’re okay, and to let them know he’s there if they want to talk. Talking to a family member, a friend, or a GP, can be a turning point.
He makes a point of minding his own mental health, just as he minds his physical health.
There’s no shame in it, the help is there
During Covid-19 he lost his job, a major stressor for a young married man, and father to new baby Rosie. “It’s been a tough time. But when I look down at Rosie, she just puts a smile on my face,” he says.
He also has people he can talk to. “There are two or three people I can call if I need to,” he says. Exercise is important for his mental health too. “Going for a run helps, hitting a ball off the wall helps, or if I’m in a mood, taking it out on a punch bag in the gym - you feel much better after it,” he says.
But the main thing is to talk. “If you’re down in the dumps, whether it’s about Covid-19, or lockdowns, whatever it’s about, the main thing is to try to talk to someone about it. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, I know that, but the minute I talked I could see a little light at the end of the tunnel, and that light got bigger every time,” he explains.
Not feeling good is not something to be ashamed of, he adds. “If you lined me up with my brothers and sisters, you’d never be able to pick out the person suffering with depression. There’s no difference between us,” he says.
“There’s no shame in it, the help is there, and it’s not a weakness to get it - it’s the thing to do.”
If you are affected by an issue in this article, contact:
- Tel: 1800 80 48 48
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tel: 116 123
- Text: 087 2 60 90 90
- Prevalence of Mental Health Illness. Available here: https://www.mentalhealthireland.ie/research/#:~:text=The%20Health%20at%20a%20Glance,alcohol%2Fdrug%20use%20in%202016 [last accessed November 2021]
- Empathy research omnibus, 29 October – 05 November 2021 [Data on file].