Back in October, on Global Mental Health Awareness Day, Shane Carthy spoke at the Zeminar event in Dublin about his ‘crippling and at times terrifying’ battle with depression.
Despite only recently turning 25, it was a polished performance from the former Dublin footballer — he hates the ‘former’ bit and is determined to return that to ‘current’ — though, in truth, it would want to have been considering it was his 90th talk of 2019.
Failing to make Jim Gavin’s panel, having been part of it at some stage in each of the seasons from 2013 to 2018, allowed the Portmarnock man the time and freedom to bring his personal story to a wider audience. He’s writing a book too and reckons he’ll be wrapped up with that in ‘two or three months’.
Whilst acknowledging that depression isn’t ever overcome, but managed, Carthy’s tale, and tome, does have a happy ending.
Not that he could have imagined such a thing when, clouded in a deep fog, he messaged his sister from the team bus on the way to the Leinster U21 final in 2014 and told her he was in no state to play.
“I can’t go through with this,” popped up on her phone.
“We’re all behind you. The family is right behind you. We’ll be at the match and we want to see you out on that pitch,” she typed back.
Carthy played and, relishing the 60 or so minutes of freedom from his dark thoughts, scored 0-3 from midfield and was man of the match.
A couple of weeks later, after a training camp in the run up to the All-Ireland semi-finals, he suffered a panic attack, blacked out and woke up in St Pat’s Mental Health Hospital.
He stayed there for 11 weeks, arming himself with the tools and resources to help him cope with life and the ‘thoughts of dying by suicide’.
At one stage, the idea of sharing those thoughts with even a family member, let alone a crowd of strangers, 90 times, filled him with dread.
“Absolutely, if you had told me that, back when I found out what was going on with me in 2014, when I went into St Pat’s, it would have been the last thing I’d have thought I’d be doing, speaking in front of, you know, my biggest crowd this year was 1,200 people at one stage.
“I was telling people all about my personal difficulties that I couldn’t even tell my Mam or Dad, or my best friend, or even my dog! Now I’m telling 1,200 people. It went full circle, you could say.”
Carthy’s reasoning for doing the talks was simple; he spent two years dealing silently with the effects of depression before opening up and doesn’t want anyone else to make the same mistake.
“I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy,” he admitted.
Carthy’s circle has rounded to such a degree that Dessie Farrell, the U21 manager in 2014 who helped him in so many ways during that difficult period, is now the Dublin senior manager.
There’ll be no favours, of course, but Farrell at least realises Carthy’s potential and the player himself is intent on finally living up to it by making his mark as a county senior in 2020.
His club form with Naomh Mearnog has been solid and he’s pushed himself hard privately to be in good physical shape if the call comes.
“I know myself what areas I need to improve on,” said Carthy, who made his National League debut against Cork in 2013 while studying for his Leaving. “I’ve tried to work away on those things this year. Hopefully, it has been noticed.”
Carthy is conducting this interview at Dublin City University having been awarded a scholarship by the DCU Business School in conjunction with the Gaelic Players Association.
If he does break back into the Dublin panel he will be a busy man, juggling club, college along with county commitments, and you gently suggest that this could make life hectic for him again.
“Funnily enough, I’ve actually thought about that in terms of this year (2019),” said Carthy.
It was hugely disappointing that I wasn’t involved with Dublin for the league and Championship. And back in 2013, I don’t think I would have had the tools and resources to deal with that, that adversity of not being involved.
“But because of the resilience that I’ve built up over the last couple of years through the help of so many people, I was able to deal with it in a positive manner. For me, it would be great if I could come back in January a much stronger and more resilient person and, as I said, I’ve got the tools and resources to be able to deal with what comes from there.
“It would be a balancing act but I know no different... you know, where my anxiety comes from is when I’m not busy, when I’m not doing something.
“The beauty of it is that there is obviously going to be natural stresses within that, and when I’m under pressure for a book deadline or the academic side of it or sporting commitments, whatever it may be, I’m a lot better able to manage my stress levels and to notice when I do feel stressed and when I do need to take a step back and look after myself and recharge and go again.”
By going public with his story, Carthy inevitably prompted other players who had been suffering in silence to reach out.
“I’ve had many reach outs to me, but that’s only those who have actually reached out, I do believe there are many more out there, not only in footballing terms but in general life, as there always is,” he said.
“From my background of football, it’s such a masculine game, you don’t show any kind of weakness. And that was a huge thing for me, I couldn’t even think about, you know, 30 lads in a dressing room and if I told some of them I wasn’t feeling great I’d think I’d get ridiculed or slagged.
“That environment, from my perspective now, has changed but I’m not too sure it has in every dressing room around the country.”