Galway United’s Stephen Folan talks about his battle with depression 

By Gerard Mulreaney & Aaron Cawley

According to research recently published by RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland), one in five young Irish adults aged 19-24 and one in 6 young people aged 11-13 were experiencing mental disorder at the time they took part in two HRB-funded studies on mental disorders among Irish youth. The research also found that experiencing mental ill-health in early life places young people at increased risk of further episodes of mental ill-health during their adult years.

Mental illness knows no boundaries, it can effect anyone, and as football fans around the world saw these past few weeks with Everton player Aaron Lennon, footballers are not immune to suffering from mental health problems.

Every weekend League of Ireland fans trudge around the country to support their team. On the stands they’re quick to discuss players performances, good, bad or indifferent.

Footballers all go through a bad spell during their career, it doesn’t matter if you’re Lionel Messi or Christy Fagan. While, at times injury play a part in players going through a bad spell, one thing fans never think about is mental illness.

One League of Ireland footballer has decided to come out and speak about his problems with depression.

Galway United player Stephen Folan, unknown to many League of Ireland fans suffered a bout of depression after his father sadly passed away last year aged 57.

Speaking to theleagueofireland.com after their recent 0-0 draw with Derry City, Folan wanted to first talk about Derry’s Ryan McBride. He more than most, knows only too well the sadness that come with the loss of a family member. He said, “I’d just like to start off by remembering Ryan Mc Bride. It was the first time I’ve faced Derry since his untimely passing. He’s always in our thoughts, and deepest condolences to his family and team mates and the city of Derry. He’s the best defender I’ve seen in both boxes, an absolute warrior, and it was a pleasure to share a pitch with him.”

Folan then went on to talk about his Dad, “My dad was 57 when he passed, and that’s why I’ve chosen to wear that number, as it has huge meaning to me. He was a massive influence and presence in my life, and when he passed I found it very difficult. The worst thing was I was at Cork and never spoke to anyone, just kept it to myself. I’m definitely all for trying to help people get the courage to go and speak to people because it really does help.”

“Things for me personally are a lot better than last year. I was struggling with fitness at times and mentally it was very tough. It’s my first time at home since I was 16 years old, and not having my dad around me after his passing was very tough. Ultimately it was very hard going into games, as I don’t think I was mentally or physically prepared. At times I was very down and depressed.”

Stephen sought to help of the PFAI and they were in a position to help him out with counselling; “It’s changed this season for me, both mentally and physically, because of the support of the PFAI. They sorted out a counsellor for me in Dublin, and I’m now going up once or twice a month.”

“There’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel for me and I’m in a great place at the moment because of that.”

“My aim now is to play as many minutes as I can and keep Galway United in the Premier Division and be happy, and if I do that I’ll be on the way back to where I know I can get to, considering I’ve got all them areas ticked.”

theleagueofireland.com spoke to PFAI General Secretary Stephen McGuinness about League of Ireland players who find themselves in difficult circumstances. He said, “A number of years ago this became an issue and we had a very severe case about 3-4 years ago of a player contacting us who was suicidal. We were aware of players who had issues, but it was the first time we got a call, especially of this nature, to the office. It was very very worrying from our point of view.”

“We were very lucky at the time as we had a guy called Sean Helebert. He had good skills regarding Mental health issues. Thankfully we had him in place, and drove out to meet the player and basically took him away from what he was going to do and got him into hospital, and ultimately on the road to recovery.”

“On the back of that then we engaged with a psycho therapist who’s now working with 12 current professional footballers. It’s quite a lot when you consider that we’ve only got approx 275 League of Ireland players. That’s both male and female by the way, as we offer services to the Senior Women’s International team as well.”

“A year ago we started training our staff as we started to get that many calls. We needed to make sure our staff were trained on front-line calls. We need to be able to deal with that and then pass it on to the relevant professionals.”

“Ourselves, the GPA (Gaelic Players Association) and IRUPA (Irish Rugby Union Players Association) were trained in the GPA offices less than a year ago in how to deal with the calls when they first come in. Three full-time PFAI staff were trained on how to deal with that. This has no barriers, whether you’re 15 or 50-60.”

“We’re now looking to, along with the GPA and IRUPA, is getting a 24 hour phone-line up and running. It’s something we will have to fund ourselves but something that we feel is hugely important to our members. The GPA and IRUPA have a 24 hour one, but we’re working on getting one that’s available to all sports and feeds into the one service. Hopefully in the next couple of months that will become a reality. It’s a really difficult thing with sports people, as everyone expects them to be able to deal with whatever’s thrown at them. It’s great that the likes of Stephen, and others, are willing and able to talk out about this especially when still playing.”

After speaking to Stephen last week, he went on to give a man-of-the-match performance for Galway United as they became the first club this season to take points off Premier Division leaders Cork City. Stephen also scored his first goal for his home-town club in that game as it finished 1-1. For Stephen things are looking up, all because he made up his mind to ask for help, something he would wholeheartedly recommend for anyone in a similar situation.

If you, or anyone you know, have been affected by the issues raised in this article please contact the Samaritans on 116123 for support or visit the website on www.samaritans.org.

Pieta House can be contacted on 1800 247 247. For more information on Pieta House and its services visit www.pieta.ie.