Mental health: ‘I couldn’t function in society and would feel absolute terror in groups of people’

Voluntary organisation Aware hoping to develop understanding of depression, a condition that can affect us at any stage of our lives

“My early memories were of the front door being kicked in, windows being hit or smashed, and fireworks forced through the letterbox,” says Adrian Mahony. “My poor mother, who had her own mental health issues, along with my father, were young parents trying to get by and raise their kids — and both my sister, who has spina bifida, and I put up with a lot of bullying.

“To this day, I don’t know why my family was picked on, and my sister and I [were] bullied, but when someone is exposed to that sort of environment, it can cause issues long term and that is exactly what happened to me.”

The Tipperary man says his problems with mental health really began when he was in his late teens. It started with anxiety, and depression followed. “I literally couldn’t go outside the door and ended up being a recluse,” he says. “I stopped playing hurling, soccer and Gaelic football as the only place I felt safe was at home. I didn’t even feel safe if I was out on the green near my house or just down the town.

Alcohol and drugs

“I couldn’t function in society and would feel absolute terror in groups of people. The only time I would go outside the door was when I was tanked up on drink and drugs as I had [a] horrendous self-image.


“My issues really kicked in around 2006 and I thought I was going out of my mind. But instead of seeking professional help, I self-medicated and would drink and take drugs on my own most nights of the week. Alcohol and drugs were a huge part of my life and had been since I was about 16. My schoolfriends and I would mitch school and go sniffing petrol, then we started using hash, which progressed into ecstasy, speed and cocaine. For me, drugs were an escape from reality, they gave me the confidence and bravery I lacked — and I used them to function and perform in society.

“My mother passed away in 2009 and that hit me hard. So, in late 2010, I went to my GP for help. I was put on an anti-depressant, and the dosage was increased as the months went on. I was also referred to a health centre, but was always seen by a junior doctor rather than a mental health professional and the appointments, usually with different doctors, were between three and six months apart. After a general discussion about how effective the medicine was, if necessary, an increase was agreed and that was it.”

In 2011, the 36-year-old says the medicine “began to work” and he started feeling really positive. He began to take more care in his appearance, felt more confident and reduced his dependency on alcohol. He felt so well that he was convinced that he had been “cured” and this, he thought, would allow him to go back to his previous lifestyle without any consequences.

“I started going out a lot more and my alcohol intake began to increase, while my medication dosage was being reduced, until I eventually came off it,” he says. “But, by 2012, I was basically back to square one — drinking and taking drugs all the time. All the hard work had gone down the drain and I was back being a recluse again.

“Drugs and alcohol took my soul and they took away everything I held dear about myself. Some of the best years of my life were ruined because of it. I lost my whole identity. I became a horrible person — mean, bitter and resentful. I was always negative and felt angry all the time — that’s what happens when you are hungover or coming down off drugs, pretty much every day of the week. Nothing good ever came from it and I lost a lot of good friendships.”

Types of support

Over the years, the sales adviser was referred for different types of support but says he doesn’t think he was properly ready to get help — it wasn’t until 2020 and the Covid lockdowns that he finally took stock of his life and realised the time had come for change and he needed to do something about it before it was too late. “I was 33 years old and wanted to change my life as I was just wasting it and was unhappy.

“Over the years, I had seen all the professionals and taken all the meds, so now if I was going to improve my life, I would have to do it myself. I went down the route of self-discovery, self-help books, podcasts, working out, healthy diet, quality sleep and meditation. The professionals and the medication can only do so much, the hard work has to be done by the individual.

“These days, I feel great. Of course, I have good days and bad days, but overall I’m in a way better position than I was and the biggest thing for me is the gym. I’ll admit that my intensity levels need to be improved and my form could be better on some of the exercises, but going to the gym is a far better hobby than sitting at home and wallowing in self-pity.

“You can’t put a price on the benefits of physical exercise and activity and I get plenty of sleep as well — I’m normally in bed at 9.30pm every night, and up at 5.30am or 6am to get ready for gym. I try to practice meditation, but I struggle with it — hopefully, I’ll get the hang of it some day, but it has helped because a lot of our misery is down to playing the victim card and the emotional attachment to fake thoughts. I also watch a lot of podcasts and read lots of self-improvement books.”

But despite realising that having a desire to change is what will make a marked difference, he says the single most important step for anyone who is struggling is to ask for help. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help, from your parents or friends – or there are also some very good mental health professionals out there. There is help for everyone — you just need to be honest with yourself about the fact that you don’t feel okay. Yes, there is hard work involved, but you can definitely come back from the dead — just like I did.”

Information campaigns

Dr Susan Brannick, clinical director at Aware, says health professionals need to do more for people like Adrian. “Our recent survey revealed that while people who reached out for help found it beneficial, nearly half of those who had been diagnosed with depression felt they did not receive enough information on their diagnosis, the impact it may have on their lives or in relation to healthcare and community-based supports. This further highlights the need for awareness campaigns like this.”

Monday, October 9th, is World Mental Health Day and Aware Mental Health Week runs until Sunday, October 15th. This year the organisation hopes to increase understanding of depression, a condition which can affect any of us at any stage of our lives.

“Depression can be very debilitating, but it is important to know that help is available, and life can improve,” says Dr Brannick. “The experience of depression has been linked to life circumstances and social inequalities for many — and this is true for people of all ages. It’s important that we understand the different factors which can impact on our mental health and that we take steps to look after it, the same as we do with our physical health.”

Adrian says we need to make sure we get the most out of life. “Life is meant it be enjoyed and lived to the fullest — it is very precious and goes by pretty quickly. I am only 36 but the years have flown by and I have wasted a good few of them — that’s just the way it is and I can’t change it. But the future looks good, and I look forward to it, as I have big dreams and big plans.”

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in health, lifestyle, parenting, travel and human interest stories