'Bearded man' preaches mental health awareness in West Limerick

 Gary O'Dowd grows beard as part of campaign

Norma Prendiville


Norma Prendiville

'Bearded man' preaches mental health awareness in West Limerick

Gary O'Dowd aka The Bearded Man

ON the day before his 29th birthday, Gary O’Dowd, aka The Bearded Man, opened his heart to the cyber world and got a phenomenal response.

It was all part of his own determination to help prevent suicide, after losing his dad to suicide two years ago, in February 2015.

“This is the side of losing someone to suicide that people don't see. The pain and the suffering that goes on inside and behind closed doors,” he wrote.

But, he told the Limerick Leader, he was overwhelmed and blown away by the response he got with messages coming in from all over the world.

“Over 130,000 reached out and there were over 1000 shares,” he explained.

And it has helped him as he works to deal with the loss and pain of losing his father. 

“It was my second birthday without him and I was upset,” Gary explained.”I took a picture and started writing and everything just came out.”

“So here I am...this is me and yes those are my tears,” he wrote. “They're the tears of memories I'll always have but also of new memories I will never ever have again.”

“Depression is just like breaking a leg, you're physically and mentally hurt,” he continued in his post.

“When people see someone with a broken leg they'll run to help them, open a door or pick them up when they fall. But depression is just the same, only people don't always see it. They don't see any wounds so they assume 'sure they're grand, they’re  fine'. They don't know how or when to help. For those of you out there who lost someone to suicide, I feel your pain.

"To those who found their loved one, I know your pain. I've been there and felt it and I still do.”

Gary’s dad, Maurice O’Dowd, suffered from depression. He was very open about it, Gary explained, and had spent time in hospital, had taken medication and gone for counselling. But a few weeks before his death, he was experiencing very strong suicidal feelings and asked to be brought to hospital because he was afraid for himself. 

However, it was only when Gary created a fuss that his father was given a bed.

“He was looking for help and they were turning him away,” he explained.

More to the point, Gary added, he believes his father did not get the help he needed so badly at that critical time. And he remains angry with one doctor who dealt with his father.

“She was completely out of line and inappropriate,” Gary said.

After that, Maurice closed down and within weeks, he was dead and it was Gary who found him.

Gary’s experience has led him to conclude that the Health Service is “not up to scratch” when it comes dealing with people like his dad.

And he was particularly appalled that there was no out of hours service. A crisis doesn’t always oblige by happening in office hours, he pointed out.

Now, inspired by the Community Crisis Intervention Team model which was set up last year in and is based in Askeaton, he is now training to help extend that service to Kerry where he lives.

Meanwhile, by growing his beard and through his Bearded Man Campaign, he has helped raise funds for a counselling centre which has supported him.

But his biggest appeal is to those who are thinking of suicide.

i know at the time there might seem no other way out for your pain! But there is,” he insists.  

“There must be! Because all that happens is that pain is passed onto those who love you the most. Those who you will leave after you. I understand you just want the pain to go away. Well so do I. But we have to fight and we have to be strong and get through this with help or each other or via any means necessary. Because there is help out there if you're willing to look for it and try.

"I know it will be a long slow struggle, but we'll struggle it together. With friends or family, doctors or counselors, whatever it takes.”