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Conor Cusack, John Murray and Ireland's continuing crusade for mental health awareness

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Conor Cusack goes public about Ireland's last taboo - our feelings and depression
Conor Cusack goes public about Ireland's last taboo - our feelings and depression

It’s possible that nobody better embodies the merciful development of Ireland as a modern, outward-looking and sympathetic country than the Cusack brothers of Cloyne.

Donal Og Cusack, a hurling goalkeeper, a top class athlete and, given how he’s famous for standing at the oppositions’ intended terminus for a lethal missile, incredibly brave. He also just happens to be gay, and his forthright and frank manner for speaking about his sexuality marked a real sea change in Irish sport. In so doing, he took what had the potential to feed the rumor and innuendo mill ad nauseum, and spelled out just how utterly incidental it is to him as team mate and a sportsman, and but one of many things that makes him distinct as a person.

In the last week, his younger brother broke his silence about another great taboo of Irish life, his depression. And a blisteringly honest, difficult yet crucial piece it was. In times past, it’d be a sad truth to say that a family where one brother was gay and the other was depressed would have all manner of epithets thrown at them. Today, they’re treated with the best possible mix of respect, admiration.

So it was with RTE Radio 1's John Murray, who made a welcome return to the airwaves after a months-long battle with depression. Again, warm encouragement on his return and kudos for his frankness in discussing his struggle abounded. 

So it’s been with SpunOut.ie, Ireland’s national youth website and a charity which has helped young people in their droves by giving them a safe space to talk about what they want to, and perhaps realize they’re not fighting a solitary battle. So it is with Console, so it is with Pieta House, so it is with Headstrong, so it is with myriad organizations who actively work in helping de-stigmatize mental health, and any other institutions public and private who aid understanding.

With major public figures and organizations becoming more and more upfront about their mental health, and the concern and supportive attitude that goes along with it, it's getting so much easier for everyone to be upfront about mental health. Easier, but not quite as easy as it should be yet. Too many people still struggle. Too many people still struggle with admitting they struggle. Too many people still say "pull yourself together" or "sure what would they have to worry about?" and "pull yourself together". Too many people, young and old, are still taking their own lives.

John Murray hit the nail on the head in his opening remarks back on his show, but one thing he said was especially pertinent: to be depressed isn't to fail the life test. Whatever the reason, be it an inherent national reticence or fear of showing weakness, we need to get past this notion that depression is a failing, based on something you've done or failed to do. Admitting to it, speaking up about it, and thereby making it that bit easier for the next person, is the strongest thing you can do. This has all been said in the past of course, by myself and countless other commentators besides. But until we get to the day where we think of mental health, it bears repeating. It bears repeating.

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