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File photo. BILLY STICKLAND/INPHO
Brent Pope

'I found myself looking into the mirror... feeling like I was looking at someone else'

Former RTÉ pundit Brent Pope has opened up about his struggles with mental health.

FORMER RTÉ RUGBY pundit and mental health advocate Brent Pope has opened up about his time spent in a psychiatric hospital, calling for greater awareness and support for people struggling with their own issues.

The former player and RTÉ pundit spoke to RTÉ’s Brendan O’Connor this morning about his new project The Elephant in the Room, and talked about his own recent mental health battles.

Pope said he has suffered with mental difficulties since he was a teenager, and has dealt with these in various ways. He said, however, that throughout his life there has been a sense of shame and guilt associated with his illness.

“I’ve felt that all my life, unfortunately, around my mental health. Feeling weaker as a man. Being told to man up, front up, you know all those sorts of things over my life, being involved in a macho sport and from a macho… part of society,” he said.

“I came from a small, rural, country town, a farming town. I was involved in rugby and in those days it was seen as being weak if you had a vulnerability.”

Pope said he has “had a life” of trying to deal with his mental health, and had devised ways of managing his illness day-to-day, including journalling to practicing mindfulness.

However, two years ago, managing his depression became “very, very difficult”.

“I’m not saying I was in unchartered water, but I was in a way that I just knew I needed help and that’s when I just had to reach out and ask for it,” he said.

I know what works for me… I’m pretty good at looking after my health. But when I got into the situation where I thought, ‘this isn’t working anymore for me’, I knew enough to say, look, I’ve got to get professional help here, I’ve got to book myself into a psychiatric ward if that’s what it takes.

Pope spoke about one incident in which he found himself staring into the mirror and feeling as though he wasn’t staring at himself.

“I just found myself one night, it was the most eerie feeling. I just found myself looking into the mirror… and just kind of feeling like I was looking at someone else,” he said.

And I checked my watch and I was standing in front of the mirror for three hours and I just felt I was losing it, really… that was the feeling.

He sought help, contacting friends and his doctor, and later checked himself into the psychiatric ward of a hospital. He said reaching out for help had probably saved his life.

And that’s why I’m here today. I’m just saying to people out there that are in that place, just have the bravery and the courage to make that phone call, to get the help. Because there is help out there, it’s just reaching out for it and not feeling judged.

Pope said he felt that he had “an inability at that stage” to help himself and that was a danger. He knew that he needed help, however, and said this knowledge had helped to have his life.

Pope was speaking about his own battles in order to highlight his new campaign, the Elephant in the Room, which aims to support mental health charities and normalise conversations around the topic.

“This is a national effort to get everyone talking about the elephant in the room; mental health,” a statement on the website says.

“Let’s try and start the conversation around mental health issues, from the school yard to the board room. Because regardless of age, sex and status, we all need to feel more comfortable about discussing our vulnerabilities.

It is no longer acceptable to just ‘suck it up,’ ‘get on with life’ or to ‘deal with it’, clichés I was often told.

***

Need help? Support is available:
  • Samaritans – 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie
  • Pieta House – 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Aware – 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Teen-Line Ireland – 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 18)
  • Childline – 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)
  • SpunOut – text SPUNOUT to 50808 or visit spunout.ie

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