SHANNON and Ireland rugby legend Gerry McLoughlin has spoken for the first time of his battle with depression – and has admitted that he allowed rugby to “dominate” his life.
Over the last 10 years, the Labour councillor has suffered from bouts of depression, and stress - including a period four years ago when he could not leave his home, he felt so low.
In the past, he has collapsed from fatigue. And things got so bad for him 10 years ago following his split from ex-wife Colette, he admitted that during a swim in Kilkee, it “didn’t bother” him if he reached the other side.
Cllr McLoughlin – who is thankfully feeling “top of the world” now - has bravely chosen to speak out about his troubles in a bid to inspire others to seek help – and get out and involved in the community.
Recalling some of his lowest points, he said: “I wouldn’t be the type to show emotion. Men tend to hide this. But I felt completely and utterly powerless. I was just afraid to go out and meet people.”
Having served three years on Limerick City Council, as well as holding down a permanent job, Cllr McLoughlin admitted he collapsed – with his daughter, fellow councillor Orla, having to take him to hospital. He was diagnosed with having high blood pressure, and subsequently placed on medication.
“I was inundated with other people’s problems in my head. I felt indestructible, having been involved in the community for years. I collapsed on a couple of occasions. I remember I was outside in the Locke Bar one night, and on my way home, I collapsed beside Barrington’s Hospital,” he recalled.
This came as a blessing in disguise for the City East councillor, however. He felt that he should have gone on medication a lot sooner.
“At that stage, I needed something to get me through it. But I was slow to approach the doctor. When I got checked out, my blood pressure was found to be way above what it should be. I was in a depressive state,” he told the Limerick Leader, adding that he would have benefited from counselling. But none was forthcoming.
Cllr McLoughlin admits that he knew how people “on the verge of suicide” must feel.
“Let me put it to you like this: I swan the Atlantic Ocean, from Byrne’s Cove to New Found Out [in Kilkee] ten years ago after I came back from Wales. It was a huge swim, it is probably a mile across. But there were times during it that it didn’t bother me if I did not reach the other side. You get to a stage where you are responsible for a lot of things, and that responsibility is taken away from you,” he explained.
Cllr McLoughlin also felt afraid to leave his house for a long period of time. It was only after the help of a matron based at St John’s Hospital that he was able to get his life back on track.
“I couldn’t get on my bike. I couldn’t take a shower. I was just lying on the couch. This particular matron used to take me for short walks outside at UL, and cycling. Getting off the couch was the hardest part. I just didn’t want to go out. But going out and meeting people is the most important thing you can do. I was afraid, I guess,” he said.
Luckily, Cllr McLoughlin - who has just started a new job as a special needs assistant at Castletroy College - is feeling a lot better now - mainly because he does not allow himself to stay still for too long. He has many hobbies, including dancing, cycling, and gardening.
Indeed, the former prop admitted he has still not seen Ireland’s stunning World Cup victory over Australia - because he was too busy composting in his back garden near St John’s Cathedral.
He said: “I never allow myself to be idle for a minute. I don’t watch too much television. I just think you can get into a rut, especially when you have Sky television, that you don’t get out, and your mind goes inactive.”
Gerry has advised other people feeling down to keep an active mind, and bring some variety in their life.
“We all need interests in our life. I am lucky I have the dancing, I have my cycling, I have my family, and the politics. A little bit of everything is important. Not just one aspect of life, because it can dominate your life. I don’t think I will ever again do that. I used to do this to the rugby: I used to be completely addicted,” he said.
Cllr McLoughlin - who volunteers at several men’s projects in the city - feels that far too many quangos have been set up dealing with problems in local areas, and mental health issues, during the era of the Celtic Tiger.
He feels somewhere along the line, they have lost their way.
“People in these initiatives, especially those linked to social inclusion do not get out at the coalface and see what goes on. I think everybody in office on these programmes should be out there to see what is going on. You cannot learn anything from sitting in an office. Social inclusion is not a nine to five job: it goes on 24/7,” he said.
He feels there is a big responsibility now on Labour to bring through reform for local affairs.
“If we are going to take this country out of the mess it is in, we have to bring local people who are probably expecting other people to do their job through. But the jobs are not being done. Some areas are not doing a great job. Some areas have fallen behind. I think our TDs have lost contact with what is happening on the ground, and have to get back to basics,” he concluded.