FAMED rugby referee Nigel Owens was in Cork last night to speak about mental health issues at an event organised by homelessness charity, Cork Simon.
Mr Owens, the much-loved Welsh rugby referee who has openly struggled with his sexuality, an eating disorder and mental health issues, delivered a strong message to those facing similar battles. He said depression was an illness, adding: “There is a cure if you’re open to talking about it.”
“My advice to anyone is, don’t be afraid to talk about it. It’s not a sign of weakness but a sign of great strength when you decide to talk about it.
“Getting help has given a lot of people a second chance when you get to those dark times,” he added.
“I had a second chance and looking back now, I’m very grateful to the people who helped me when I did open up and how I should have opened up sooner but how much better life is now that I have.”
Mr Owens also said that while mental health issues have lost their old stigma, there is still much more to be done.
“It’s definitely something we don’t talk enough about,” he said. “We certainly discuss it more than we did and that’s a good thing.
“The more people talk about it, the more people will come forward and get the help they need and the help that’s there for them.”
Mr Owens was the first professional rugby referee to come out as gay, a decision he struggled to come to terms with until coming out at the age of 36.
At the age of 25, Owens asked a doctor if he could be chemically castrated, believing his sexuality was something that needed to be cured.
“I wasn’t open about it for a long long time,” he admitted. “When I did speak out, I soon realised how much it helped others come forward and talk about their own issues.
“People were getting in touch saying they’d been through the same thing or were going through the same thing or even knew someone struggling,” he added.
“Even though it’s not easy to talk about those dark times in your life, it does make it worth it when it helps others come forward and talk about what they’re going through.”
Admitting to yourself that you are struggling and need help is a hard step but one that has to be taken according to Mr Owens.
“Accept there are issues and talk about it because it’s okay not to be okay.
“You’re not alone,” he added.
“Don’t feel a sense of embarrassment or shame because there are many other people going through the same thing.”
Mr Owens said that while his own personal battles stemmed from struggles with his sexuality and bulimia, others may be suffering from completely different issues.
“For me, it was my sexuality and bulimia, for others, it may be relationship trouble, financial issues or even the smallest things which can get you down.
“It could be talking to a professional, a friend or a complete stranger but there are people who want to help.”