Brent Pope – “A sensitive old soul”

9 Feb

The rugby world not exactly being renowned for getting in touch with its emotional side, it was refreshing to hear rugby commentator Brent Pope talk to Ryan Tubridy on RTE radio last week. The interview veered unexpectedly from talk about the rugby team to Brent’s anxiety and commitment problems.

As a child, teenager and rugby player, Brent was an extremely anxious person – about everything. Brent said he is drawn to art, books and other creative things. Being a deep thinker can be both positive and negative, as you can talk yourself into things.

He had, and still suffers, panic attacks for no particular reason and described how these can immobilise you.

Though he has met ‘wonderful women’ in his life, he is anxious about committing. Confidence is a problem: he worries when in a relationship about why they would want to be with him.

Brent said he works hard to overcome these problems in small steps and describes this as a long journey.

As ever when these issues are broached, particularly by men, there has been much positive comment about Brent’s courage in talking so openly. Hopefully, others experiencing similar problems will be inspired by Brent’s candidness to seek help or to use Brent’s interview as a reason for raising this topic with loved ones or friends.

Listen to Brent open up on RTE 2fm here (about 49 minutes in)

Read about Brent’s opening of an art gallery in Dublin’s docklands to encourage people with mental health issues to display their work


Men’s Sheds – Men don’t talk face to face: they talk shoulder to shoulder

8 Feb

Did you know that communities across Ireland are setting up Men’s Sheds – places where men can socialise, network, make friends and share skills? Men’s Sheds aim to recreate the atmosphere of “real life” sheds – safe spaces where men can feel confident to discuss and exchange information.

We all know that men are less likely to talk about their problems or feelings than women, which can aggravate problems with mental health.  The Men’s Shed movement, which originated in Australia, wants to help men to reach out to other men and become valued and valuable members of their community.

Shed with two red flowerpots

A Men’s Shed is described as any community-based, non-commercial organisation that is open to all men and provides a safe, friendly and inclusive environment where the men can gather and/or work on meaningful projects at their own pace, in their own time and in the company of other men and where the primary objective is to advance the health and well-being of the participating men. Men’s Sheds are an innovative mix of community education and health promotion projects.

Read about Men’s Sheds in Ireland and find your nearest Shed – or get involved in setting one up:

And check out Australia’s Shed TV, which features regular videos on DIY, cooking and nutrition, health topics and lots more:

“I’m just tired of being afraid” – Ferris Bueller revisited

8 Feb

RTE showed the 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off recently. Watching it as a 30-something adult, I was surprised to realise that in between the chicka-chicka music, Ferrari japes and Dean of Students baiting, there lurks a moving portrayal of teenage angst that had completely passed me by first time around.

Ferris’s best friend, Cameron, has a messed up home life and is pretty depressed. Ferris’s coercing of him to take the day off school is an attempt to take his friend out of himself and to help him take a moment to appreciate life.

Alan Ruck puts in a moving and witty performance as Cameron – probably helped by the fact that he was nearly 30 when John Hughes was directing the film.

“I realised it was ridiculous being afraid, worrying about everything, all that sh*t, I’m tired of it… I’m bullsh*t. I put up with everything. My old man pushes me around – I never say anything. Well, he’s not the problem: I’m the problem. I gotta take a stand. I gotta take a stand against him. I am not going to sit on my *ss as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m gonna take a stand. I’m gonna defend it. Right or wrong, I’m gonna defend it.”

Unlike me, this guy got the movie first time:

Some resources for young people struggling with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues here:

Are we finally opening up about mental health issues?

7 Feb

It seems that every time the topic of depression, anxiety and suicide has been raised on the airwaves recently, the floodgates have opened: people are desperate to talk about their mental health problems and extremely grateful that the issue is being broached in the first place.

Gary Speed’s suicide, Andy O’Brien’s depression, Kate Fitzgerald’s letter to the Irish Times and RTE’s The Frontline programme on mental health are just some of the triggers that have prompted people to take to the airwaves and letters pages in recent months to address the issue of our mental health and to share their experiences, often with devastating and moving honesty.

Continuing this national conversation, a listener rang into the Tom Dunne show on Newstalk today in response to an interview with Caroline McGuigan of Suicide or Survive. You can listen to Neil’s searingly honest account of his suicide attempt of 14 years ago and his ongoing battle with anxiety here:

Neil made the crucial point that we need to talk more about this stuff as a country. More people commit suicide in Ireland each year than die on the roads, yet we lack a co-ordinated, high-profile, well-resourced campaign that addresses our nation’s mental health and seeks to remove the stigma attached to depression and mental health problems.

Could it be that the high-profile media attention devoted to this subject over the past months marks a welcome sea change in attitudes? If so, what can we do to exploit that momentum and make this an ongoing and nation-wide conversation?

Shane Mullins and male blues – “Big depressed heads on them”

7 Feb

Today’s Irish Times features a brilliant, no-nonsense summing up of the need for men to talk about their mental health. The article profiles Shane Mullins, who has been touring the country talking about the approach he used to get his life back in shape after a serious car crash in 2005.

Shane calls his programme D’mess – for determination, motivation, emotional support and social life – and he uses it to try to help young people tackle their own problems. On the topic of men and depression, he says:

“Lads go round with big depressed heads on them because they think they can sort things out themselves. They cannot. There’s no way any human in this room can do anything on their own; I’ve learned that. I can manage my physical health on my own, but no way can I manage mental health; that’s what I try to get across. Learn to talk to people. It doesn’t make you a wimp.”

Breakfast on Newstalk tackles depression

5 Feb

There was a huge reaction to Newstalk Breakfast’s discussion on depression on 24 January. Listen to the podcast here:

Ivan and Chris spoke to Agnes Rowley, a depression sufferer and a volunteer for the last 10 years with Aware, and Dr Declan Lyons, Consultant Psychiatrist at St Patrick’s University, about the illness.

Agnes emphasised the importance of reaching out and talking to someone if you are depressed. She also noted the importance of family support, citing Aware’s three-pronged approach of patient, relative and doctor. Once again, the point was made that we need to talk to children about their mental, not just their physical, health and well-being.

The Irish charity Aware aims to create a society in which those with depression and their families are understood and supported, are free from stigma and have access to a range of appropriate therapies to enable them to reach their full potential.  It provides support services for those with depression and their loved ones, including:

Writing and baking those blues away – Shalom Auslander and Marian Keyes

5 Feb

We’ve all heard about tortured types taking refuge in painting and literature, but baking?

Two articles in today’s Sunday Times described how being creative has helped two people with depression, one through writing and the other through – making cakes.

Shalom Auslander, whose latest book is entitled, Hope: A Tragedy, was depressed and suicidal in his early 20s, a state he describes as follows: “…some people are good at living, and I’m not one of them… I can’t fly this plane, so I’m getting off.” At that time, his wife persuaded him to see a psychiatrist, who recommended he start to write. Despite never having written seriously before, he finished a story within a few months and signed a book deal.

Three books and 20-odd years later, Auslander still suffers from depression but is no longer suicidal. His writing helps him to deal with a past in which he cut off contact early on with his Orthodox Jewish family and became, according to the article, ‘untethered, culturally and psychologically’.

Hope: A Tragedy, Shalom’s first novel, is the story of a man who finds a cranky and ill-mannered Anne Frank living in the attic of the house he bought to escape from his Jewish heritage. Listen to Shalom talk about the novel in this radio interview:

Today’s Sunday Times also features a profile on author Marian Keyes. Marian, who has spoken candidly about her problems with alcoholism and depression previously, explains in the article how making cakes saved her from a severe episode of depression that began in October 2009. She describes being unable to sleep, breathe, eat or read and explains that she was six months into having a nervous breakdown before she realised what was happening. She tried many things to cure her illness, including cognitive behavioural therapy, medication and time in hospital.

Then, one day, having decided to bake a cake for a friend’s birthday, she found the experience so enjoyable that she simply could not stop baking. Many cakes, recipe books and courses later, she explains the effect baking has on her mental well-being: “Baking makes me concentrate on what’s right in front of my nose. I have to focus, on weighing the sugar, on sieving the flour. I find it calming and rewarding.”

Marian has written a book inspired by her baking, called Saved by Cake: Over 80 Ways to Bake Yourself Happy, the Irish royalties of which will go to the St Vincent de Paul charity.

Read Marian’s searingly honest account of her most recent experiences of depression (including a couple of recipes for chocolate brownies and pavlova thrown in for good measure) here: