Rugby pundit Brent Pope said the "ignorance" and stigma around people's perceptions of mental health conditions needs to be challenged, particularly among men.
Mr Pope, a regular RTÉ TV rugby pundit was the keynote speaker at a Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit held in the Aviva stadium, Dublin on Friday.
“I’m not ashamed to say I have to go to a therapist every week, I’m not ashamed to say I’ve had to go on antidepressants from time to time when I felt I needed help, nor should anybody,” he said.
“I don’t want to be defined by my mental health problems, I don’t want that to be who I am, it’s just a part of me.
“I’ve been a good sportsman, I always excelled physically, it’s just that my mind didn’t follow, and for so many years I couldn’t fix myself. Unfortunately for me it was a lot of my life in unhappy times and running away from happiness,” he told the conference.
“I don’t like to use the word stigma because its gone past that now, it should be replaced by ignorance,” he said.
Mr Pope, who is originally from New Zealand and moved to Ireland a number of years ago, has regularly spoken about his own challenges with his mental health over the last ten years.
He told the conference about his first experiences of panic attacks and catastrophe anxiety when he was 13 years old.
He described how he started to get waves of negative thoughts about his life and future; “you’ll be a failure all your life, you’ll never be loved, you’ll never have a family, nobody will come to your funeral, you’ll be homeless, that’s the kind of catastrophe psyche,” he said.
‘I needed a new start’
He said he continued to struggle with negative thoughts about himself into his adult life. “I didn’t want to go on really, I didn’t have any point, I didn’t see what I was adding to society.
“And out of pure desperation, and I kind of knew I saved my own life … I remember, it was 3 o’clock in the morning and I called the Samaritans helpline”.
“I nervously rang the phone and I heard this wonderful voice at the end of the line that just said - ‘hello friend’. It just allowed me that safe place to say there are a lot of things wrong with me” and to start seeking help, he said.
“That’s why I came to Ireland really, because I needed to get away from a toxic environment that was bad for me, I needed a new start,” he said.
Prof Jim Lucey, medical director at St Patrick's Mental Health Services, also addressed the conference on Friday morning.
Prof Lucey said the demands of modern life and the increasing use of technology means people, and in particular children, were not getting as much sleep compared to the past.
This was having a knock-on effect on people’s wellbeing he said.
Prof Lucey was also critical of the stigma placed on mental health problems in society.
“It’s simply unkind to be stigmatic, it’s simply unkind, and self-stigma being most prominent,” he said.
“Recovery is my daily, daily joy, and every day I see people who get well and teach me how brave human beings can be,” he said.
The summit held various workshops on mental health and wellbeing through the day, and was attended by organisations such as the Irish Prison Service, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), and An Garda Síochána.