Buttimer backs counselling benefits

 

Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer has spoken of his “fear, denial and confusion” over his sexuality that led him into counselling in his early 30s.

Mr Buttimer (45) became the first Fine Gael TD to openly “out” himself as gay which he did last year. He said he has received complete acceptance from the Fine Gael party, the GAA in which he is involved, friends and family.

“If I knew now what life would have been like I would have come out earlier.”

Mr Buttimer, who is the chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, spoke today at the launch of the mental health charity Inspire Ireland Foundation’s annual report.

The charity’s website ReachOut.com was accessed 143,652 times last year by young Irish people between the ages of 12 and 25.

Some three-quarters of those who accessed the site reported feeling under mental stress, depression or anxiety. Isolation, strain on relationships and money worries were the reasons most often cited for contacting the service.

Mr Buttimer explained that his sexuality was the main reason why he sought counselling along with his decision to quit studying for the priesthood in Maynooth after five years.

“I was a classic ’don’t ask, don’t tell’. I hid my sexuality and busied myself doing other things. I was in relationships with women. I reached a point where you continue to live a lie or you become happy in accepting yourself for what you are.

“I found counselling very beneficial. It was challenging, and it was tough because it probed questions about myself and that is what we have to do in mental health.”

He said it was important that young gay people knew their worth. “We are people who have values and we want to play a part in society. I’m happy to live my life as a gay person and to make a valuable contribution.”

He praised ReachOut.com as a resource to bring a new openness to mental health issues which were not apparent when he was a teenager. “Young people are resourceful and creative, and they will go and talk through the anonymity of chat rooms and ReachOut where they can unburden themselves knowing that they are not going to be identified and it helps them to share.”

Mr Buttimer, who has a degree in Theology, said he remains a practicing Catholic. He described his sexuality as a “gift that was given to me and I very much use the phrase ’gift’.

“If I did not have a belief in God, my life would be a lot poorer. When I wake up there is a chance of new change, new opportunities and it is predicated on the fact that I have been given a gift.

“The God I believe in does not condemn or judge me. He loves me for who I am.”

Mr Buttimer said his sexuality was known to his friends and family before he went public last year and that he did so to advocate publicly for equal rights for gay people.