‘I tightened the screw as tight as I could.’ Raw, moving accounts of men’s mental health

TV review: This is a gripping film about emotional challenges for young men

Ray Connellan (left) in action at Croke Park. Photograph: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Ray Connellan (left) in action at Croke Park. Photograph: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

 

Mental health was rarely talked about in Ireland across the decades. But times have thankfully changed and now psychological self-care is the subject of many worthwhile documentaries, podcasts and books. The latest example is I’m Fine, Andrew Ascough’s gripping and thought-provoking film about the emotional challenges facing young men (RTÉ Two, Thursday).

The format is minimalist. We are introduced to: Hugh Mulligan, a Dubliner who performs spoken word poetry as Malaki; Belfast-born inter-country hurler Lorcán McMullan; Westmeath footballer Ray Connellan; and Cork ultra-marathon runner Conor O’Keeffe.

They speak honestly to camera about their struggles and their demons. McMullan discusses how the pressure to match the sporting prowess of his father caused insomnia and led to weight loss. “I felt I had to play to make him proud,” he says. “I tightened the screw as tight as I could – and continued on this path to obsession.”

The darkest moment for Connellan meanwhile was learning his father, seemingly a rock of dependability, had attempted suicide. “I started retching,” he recalls. “The strongest person in my life … why did he do that? If that happened to him, why not me?”

Their stories are powerful, and it is important that their experiences are shared.

A case might nonetheless be made that the focus of the documentary is slightly too narrow. What about young men who don’t excel at sports or have neither the ability or inclination to channel their demons into rap music? And what of older men? The highest rate of suicide in Ireland is among men aged 45 to 54 according to 2018 CSO statistics (though that is obviously touched on in the case of Connellan’s father).

This is raw, moving television and RTÉ is to be commended for bringing it to the screen (it can also be watched on the RTÉ Player). However, it would have been illuminating to hear from a wider range of voices.