Beloved Irish American musician Seamus K admits battling crippling depression


Popular Pennsylvania-based Irish musician Seamus K has earned fans and praise on both sides of the Atlantic, but his success meant nothing when depression came calling. Here, he details his ongoing battle against depression, hopeful that others who are also suffering will learn from his story.

A little over two months ago, I admitted myself to Horsham Clinic in Pennsylvania suffering from chronic anxiety and depression.

In the weeks leading up to my admission, I was sleeping less than two hours a day, could barely eat, could not focus on the job and was losing weight at an alarming rate. I was constantly sad, and it took everything to get out of bed in the morning to get on the Septa train and head down to my work in Philadelphia.

The warning signs were everywhere. I felt a sense of desperation unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I was suffering from chronic anxiety and depression.

After talking with my wife, my sister who was visiting from Ireland and some close friends, I came to the conclusion that I needed immediate help. My wife and I went to the crisis center at the Doylestown Hospital emergency room in Pennsylvania.

After a brief consultation, they arranged for me get into Horsham that evening. It was a tough decision to make, but my wife and I knew it was the right one. 

Before going to hospital, I went home and sat down with my four young children, one by one and explained what was happening. I did it in as calm a way as possible so as not to alarm them. Later that night, my oldest son told my wife he knew I was not doing well when I stopped playing guitar about a month earlier.

After a week of intensive treatment, therapy and the right medication, I was released from the hospital well on the road to recovery. The clinic has a wonderful staff that work together as a team to make sure each patient is on the right course of treatment.

Since leaving Horsham, I have continued to attend weekly therapy sessions and in the process learned a lot about my illness and how I ended up in such a bad state.

It’s almost impossible to describe what depression feels like unless you are going through it. Some of the more common forms of depression are reactive, recurrent, endogenous and manic. Most all share the common feelings of hopelessness, despair, fear, anxiety, shame and the inability to enjoy life.

It is believed that most depressions involve a chemical imbalance in the brain. There is less known about what exactly triggers depression. It’s the whole nature versus nurture argument.

Depression is often but not always accompanied by anxiety. Anxiety is also difficult to describe, but it’s basically a feeling of anxiousness about simple tasks such as getting out of bed or going to work or even something as simple as answering the phone.

We all experience some form of anxiety in our daily routines, but as long as we are mentally fit we are able to manage it, and it can be a positive factor in our lives. It’s when anxiety is combined with depression, that’s when everything gets exaggerated and reality gets distorted.

I share my story today because I believe depression, anxiety and other illnesses that come under the general heading of mental illness often have a stigma attached to them. As a result, thousands of people cover up their illness, suffer in silence, and never receive the treatment they desperately need for fear of shame, embarrassment, losing a job, and often the fear of losing their loved one.

The families of people with this type of illness also suffer while watching someone they care deeply about in distress and not knowing where to turn for help.

MY BATTLE with depression goes back to the early 1970s. I started playing music professionally at age 14. Within a year I gained popularity around Galway because of my flamboyant rock guitar playing and my stage theatrics. As a 15-year-old I was living the dream, opening up for major bands including the amazing Thin Lizzy.

By the summer of 1974, I was playing with a band called Rock & Roll Circus. The band performed all over Ireland and we were tipped to be the next big thing.

In the midst of the launch of the band, my mother passed away suddenly at age 54. She was a saintly lady and we were very close. Without doubt, she was my biggest fan.

I practiced guitar at least eight hours a day, only breaking for tea and brown bread with Mam as we called her.  We talked about everything during those tea breaks. It was the best part of my day.

Even before Mam passed away, I was having a hard time dealing with everyday life. I was sad most of the time and I found it difficult getting out of bed each day. I had withdrawn from my friends and family and felt lonely and lost.

Two months after Mam died it all came to a head. Rock & Roll Circus did a show in Wexford. I knew something was wrong as I had a hard time concentrating on the music.

After the show we went back to our hotel. I couldn’t fall asleep and got very agitated. It was a terrifying experience. I walked the deserted streets of Wexford for hours in an effort to calm down.