Page 1

Page 34 Mental Wellbeing - Sláinte Magazine

“We do too much rushing around, and we need to take time to look after ourselves”

When my life turned all black John Kirwan was one of New Zealand’s most successful rugby players of all time, with 63 tests under his belt. But at the pinnacle of his success, he could barely drag himself out of bed because of depression. He tells Maria McHale how he faced up to his demons. At the height of his

particular, he has spent the

international rugby career,

last few years fronting a

John Kirwan found that the

hugely successful

pressure caused him

campaign to increase

serious mental health

depression awareness in

problems. In fact, he

his native New Zealand.


Do: Spend time with them.

struggled with depression

Listen rather than talk.

throughout his career, even

He wanted to front the

experiencing a major panic

campaign to ensure that

attack before one test

no one else should feel

match. “I was literally lying

alone or isolated if they are

in bed, shaking and crying.

feeling down. Five years of

I didn’t know why I was

campaigning means that

feeling like this and I didn’t

“at least now there’s

know what to do about it,”

definitely an awareness

he recalls.

that you can do something

Learn about depression – how it’s treated and how you can help. See yourself as part of their support team. Understand how depression affects their daily life. Encourage them to be healthy, to exercise and do things they enjoy.

Don’t: Tell them to “snap out of it” or “harden up”. Encourage excess alcohol or drug use as a coping strategy. Avoid them – they already feel isolated.

about it, that you are not

Assume the problem will just go away.

“When I told someone that

alone, that there is nothing

I thought I had a problem,

weird about you, and that

they said: ‘What are you

you will almost certainly

talking about, you’ll be

get better if you get the

bravery to stand up and say

We need to look after

fine. What have you got to

help you need.”

that maybe you need help,

our minds when they are

but if you can take that step

not well.”

worry about?’.”

Give unhelpful advice (“think of people who are worse off than you”).

Kirwan visited Ireland

and find someone who can

Now his advice to anyone

recently to help promote

help you work through it,

Now, he works on his own

feeling depressed is to

the Lean on Me campaign,

each day will get better,”

mental health every day –

keep talking to people and

which aims to dispel the

he explains.

giving himself time to

keep asking for help. “If

myths surrounding

indulge his hobbies of

the first person you speak

depression, encourage

“If you had a sore knee, you

playing guitar, cooking and

to doesn’t understand or

people to provide support

wouldn’t think twice about

reading. As he explains:

help you, then keep asking

to those affected by

going to the doctor, or

“Depression is a modern

until you find someone

depression and empower

trying to make it better by

illness, we do too much

who can.”

them to seek treatment.

putting an ice pack on it, or

rushing around, and we

something. We need to take

need to take time to look

that approach to our minds.

after ourselves.”

Like his friend Munster and

He believes there is less of

Ireland rugby player Alan

a stigma now about

Quinlan, who has also

admitting to being

battled depression in his

depressed, but that Irish

life, Kirwan has had the

people need to realise that

courage to use his high

help is available.

profile to help others. In

“I know it takes some The Lean on Me website has excellent information about depression (including the causes, symptoms, treatments and so on), and a downloadable leaflet “How to Say Lean on Me”, that has advice on how to begin a conversation about depression, and how to support a friend or family member affected by depression.

Slainte interviews All Black Legend John Kirwan  
Slainte interviews All Black Legend John Kirwan