Rugby analyst Brent Pope, ex-Cork hurler Conor Cusack and musician Niall Breslin, among others, put forward their experiences as part of the Cycle Against Suicide initiative.
The programme works by urging young people to reach out if they need help, and includes a high-profile, nationwide, awareness cycle which takes place in April and May.
Speaking to more than 4,000 transition year students at the RDS yesterday, the stars of stage and sport said real progress is being made in how Irish society addresses mental health issues.
Despite the stigma in previous generations over talking about hidden problems, they insisted seeking help should be seen as a sign of strength, not weakness.
“Don’t make the same mistakes I did by not talking about it until you’re 22,” said Niall Breslin, a judge on the popular RTÉ music show, The Voice, who revealed in 2003 that he suffers from panic attacks and an anxiety disorder.
“The longer you leave it the harder it gets, so it’s better to just shout it from the rooftops. Once you take that step there’s hundreds of avenues you could take.”
Brent Pope continued that, while some people may look strong on the outside, you never know what they were coping with in their own lives.
He said the “macho” atmosphere in which he grew up in New Zealand was like Ireland in the past, where it was almost better to call in sick to work because of a hangover than because of mental health issues.
However, the former All Black insisted such an attitude was wrong and that “no one should be deemed weak as a man” for reaching out for help.
The Cycle Against Suicide campaign (which included support from Ireland women’s rugby team captain Niamh Briggs) was launched by entrepreneur Jim Breen last year in a bid to address Ireland’s ongoing battle against depression and suicide by raising awareness among teenagers.
More than 4,000 students attended yesterday’s RDS event with the full backing of school trusts, managerial bodies, the Irish Guidance Counsellors association and teachers.
“It’s about changing a mind-set. It’s all about planting seeds in younger ages,” said Mr Breen, who came up with the initiative after appearing on TV show The Secret Millionaire.
* Turning the Tide of Suicide: www.3ts.ie; 24/7 helpline: 1-800-24-7-100
* HSE suicide help-line 6-10pm: 1800-742-745
Cork GAA star Conor Cusack has hit out at the lack of Government funding to tackle Ireland’s suicide crisis.
Speaking at the national Cycle Against Suicide campaign launch, the former inter-county hurler said little will change until politicians stop thinking “there are not many votes in mental health”.
The brother of Donal Óg Cusack, who still plays for Cloyne, revealed his own battle with depression last Oct in a widely acclaimed blog on the issue, which can be read at www.irishexaminer.com.
However, he said, while changes in Irish society mean the “elephant of stigma has at least started to leave the room,” problems still exist at a national policy level.
“If you think about it, this issue isn’t getting less, it’s getting worse, and to think they’re [Government] cutting money to vital services is absolutely demoralising.
“There’s too many politicians of the view that there’s not many votes in mental health. That may be harsh, but unless something is put out there to convince me otherwise that’s what I’ll think.
“There’s a constant campaign with the National Roads Authority to reduce road deaths, but I don’t see a similar Government campaign to highlight suicide. It won’t be easily solved, but we do need leadership,” he said.
Provisional figures for 2013 show 526 people may have died by suicide in Ireland last year, up from 507 in 2012.
The rate — which equates to more than 10 deaths a week — includes monthly lows of 35 in Dec and highs of 50-to-52 in April, July and Aug.
According to the provisional figures, a further 18 deaths this month to date are also suspected of being by suicide.
Thanks to all the @gaelicplayers reps for their discussions & ideas on reducing the stigma around Mental Health issues in our dressingrooms— Conor Cusack (@Conor14Cusack) January 11, 2014