World Mental Health Day: ‘Finding ways to cope is key’ – country singer James Kilbane talks about depression and low self-esteem

Singer James Kilbane has urged anyone feeling low, anxious or stressed not to suffer in silence but to speak to a professional.

peaked on World Mental Health Day, the Christian, country and gospel singer, who came second in the second series of RTÉ 1’s You are a star contest to choose Ireland’s entrant for 2004’s Eurovision, opened up about his struggles with mental health – from his time as a young child at school, to more recently when the country opened up after Covid-19 lockdowns.

“At school I was considered a bit slow,” he says. “I had dyslexia which would have been caught earlier if I was a child today, but those were different times. My classroom experience left me with low self-esteem and I was bullied in my teenage years.

“I don’t know if I had depression, but I definitely felt very low and often sad and sad. Other times I felt angry or emotional and expressed myself in a negative way.”

The now 51-year-old married his wife Christina in 1989 and was satisfied with his life, but still had negative feelings about himself.

He underwent counseling while studying at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, which taught him to talk about his feelings and know what coping mechanisms to use.

In the intervening years he did well, but the onset of Covid-19 and subsequent shutdowns triggered.

“I was stressed out for fear of catching Covid and aware of the dangers to elderly family members,” he says. “Even though I did everything I thought needed to be done, I was kind of hyper, very alert and nervous. I would get sucked into my emotions and end up disturbing others, so much so that they would stay away.

“Emotionally, though, it was much better for me and I appreciated the quiet.

“I liked that the hustle and bustle was gone, and it felt like a relief not to have to socialize all the time. But even after the vaccinations, I was hesitant about public places.

“But I started arranging some casual dates (for concerts) and started recording some TV shows with the Shalom World Television Network (which broadcasts spiritual and religious programs). Then I got Covid and had to isolate myself for 10 days alone. I was quite sick but survived and didn’t panic when I actually had it.”

The father of two says that during the first and second shutdowns, he continued to work on his farm and started doing online shows that made him feel positive.

But as the world began to open up again, the stress and emotions began to build.

“The sudden expectation that everyone should just get back to normal and move on was overwhelming.

“Then in May this year I needed to speak to a professional again. I contacted my local GP who told me I wasn’t alone. I called the HSE number and was put on a waiting list – but a few weeks later I started to feel really low.

“I needed to speak to someone so called the Samaritans and got an answering machine.

“I then called the Westport Family Center who gave me a number for an organization called North West Stop.”

Feeling calmer after his first interaction with them, James then made an appointment with a counsellor, who he has now seen “seven or eight times” and has been a great help to him.

He is learning to cope with emotions and turmoil again and has been able to perform some shows in recent months.

“You don’t have to feel suicidal to have emotional and mental health problems – but it’s important, no matter how you’re feeling, to try to learn how to cope,” he says.

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