Sports personalities open up about mental health

Conor Cusack – the prominent Irish hurler – has been invited to talk publicly about his depression and the effects of the illness on his life, after his blog about his experiences was so positively received by readers. Other senior Irish sportspeople have recently spoken out about their battles with mental illness, including Alan O’Meara, who talked about having depression and feeling suicidal, and Niall McNamee, who has talked about his problems with gambling.


As well-known sports personalities have opened up about depression and issues with mental health the number of senior Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) players coming forward for counselling has tripled: The Irish Times reported that the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) counselling service predicts that it will deal with 80 top footballers and hurlers this year, up from 27 in 2012. The service believes that more people are accessing the service due to the increasing number of sportspeople telling their stories of dealing with mental health issues, which is going somewhere towards tackling the taboo surrounding the topic of mental health in the wider world of sport and beyond. 


Depression, gambling and bereavement are the main reasons for sportspeople presenting for counselling according to Dr Muldoon, a representative of the GPA counselling service, as reported by the Irish Times. Dr Muldoon said that gambling had become a bigger problem in the sporting world over recent years, as “players no longer had alcohol as the release valve that it used to be”. The doctor also said that being top sportspeople commonly leads to unrealistic expectations in other areas of life, which can lead to difficulties in managing mental and emotional health and well-being: “Because you are successful in a high-profile area in sport, it is expected that you can cope with everything else and that’s a tough scenario for anybody who finds themselves vulnerable,” he said. He also pointed out that the self-esteem of athletes and sportspeople is often inextricably tied up with performance on the field: “If sport is your only identity and something goes wrong within your career, it makes it even more difficult.”


At The Grove we understand that people who have experienced success in certain parts of their lives, such as in their career, may feel disillusioned in other areas, for example in their relationships or self-fulfillment. It can be confusing when others around you seem to only recognise your success, and may not see how you are really feeling underneath. You may feel that there is no space in which to talk about and explore your feelings, and to get a hold of what it is you really want out of life. Additionally, it may feel as if all your worth is tied up with your work, so when something goes wrong in your career – be that in the world of sport, business, media or anything wider – it impacts hugely on your entire life. You may find it hard to hold onto anything positive, and it can feel difficult to move on.


The counsellors and therapists at The Grove are familiar with working with high achieving individuals who want to take some time to explore where they are in life, and how they want to move forward from where they are currently. If you have reached the top but are struggling to manage things in other areas of your life, let’s talk. We can explore where you are now, and where you want to be, and put into motion some steps for moving onwards towards the life you truly want.