Men’s Health Week at University of Limerick got off to a flyer on Monday evening as former professional footballer turned RTÉ pundit and qualified psychotherapist Richie Sadlier spoke candidly about his struggle with depression and the need to improve the relationship between mental health and masculinity.
Speaking at the event organised by UL Student Life, in association with Campus Life Services, the 39-year-old, whose family hail from Limerick, was keen to stress the importance of hosting evenings such as these in relation to wellbeing.
“For those of us working in mental health it’s fantastic to see events like this taking place all over the country and that things are changing” he said.
“Evenings like this didn’t happen at all previously and when you’re based in this industry you’re working towards change – on a micro-level as a psychotherapist with the person sitting in front of you and on a macro-level as we try to change attitudes and government decisions by doing our bit. Events like these go a long way towards bringing about that change.”
‘An Evening with Richie Sadlier’ consisted of the former Millwall player, who was once described by well-established manager Mark McGhee as potentially the best young centre forward he had ever worked with, opening up to the Limerick students about his experiences as a footballer and the eventual career-ending injury which led him to contemplate suicide.
Sadlier explained of the initial build-up of emotional issues as an 18-year-old: “The inevitable came, as it does with absolutely everyone, and I had a period when I felt a little bit stretched, overwhelmed and under pressure, but I thought I had nowhere to turn. Actually I had loads of places to turn but I didn’t allow myself the option.”
Thoroughly enjoyed the evening with @RichieSadlier event tonight @UL. He delivered a very insightful talk on his experience with mental health in a sporting context. Fantastic advocate for all things mental health, doing his bit to reduce the persistent stigma 👏 #MensHealthWeek
— Leigh Bergin (@LeighRBergin) November 5, 2018
He added of his depression post-retirement at the age of 24: “The reality was that I figured I was as low as I could be and the reason I felt that way was irreversible. I thought, ‘sod this – I don’t want to live like this, this is no life at all, certainly not for me’. Three months after I had retired I was making my own suicide plans, had contacted a solicitor and that was it. I was done.
“However, a weird sequence of events happened whereby I then went to see a therapist and for the first time in the build-up to or after my retirement, I said what I felt.”
Sadlier, who represented Ireland with distinction at underage level and was capped in the senior team, said of his turnaround: “Today, as you can imagine, things have changed massively in my attitude to my mental health.
“I go to therapy every week just because it helps, I swim in the sea as many mornings as I can because it does wonders for my mood, I’m really selective about the company I keep, watch what I eat and drink, how I sleep – I talk very openly about how I’m doing with a small selective group of people who I respect and trust. My approach is very different to how it used to be.”
UL Student Life’s Men’s Health Week takes place throughout this week, with events held to highlight the issues that predominantly affect men. Campaigns relating to testicular cancer and steroid awareness are also on show as well as mindfulness sessions.