World Mental Health Day: ‘Finding ways to cope is crucial’ – Country singer James Kilbane opens up on depression and low self-esteem

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

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

“I was considered a bit slow at school,” he says. “I had dyslexia, which would have been discovered sooner if I were a kid today, but those were different times. My experiences in the classroom led me to have low self esteem and bullying in my teenage years.

“I don’t know if I was depressed, but I definitely felt down a lot and was sad and upset a lot. Other times I was angry or emotional and expressed myself negatively.”

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

While studying at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, he underwent counseling that taught him how to talk about his feelings and what coping mechanisms to use.

He did well in the intervening years, but the outbreak of Covid-19 and the lockdowns that followed were a catalyst.

“I was stressed, scared of contracting Covid and aware of the dangers to older family members,” he says. “Even though I was doing everything I felt needed to be done, I was a little overexcited, very conscious and nervous. I would get sucked into my feelings and end up upsetting others so much that they would stay away.

“Emotionally, I felt much better and I appreciated the calm.

“I liked that the rush was gone and it felt like a relief not having to constantly socialize. But even after the vaccinations, I was hesitant about public places.

“However, I started arranging some low-key dates (for performances) and started taping some television programs with the Shalom World Television Network (which airs spiritual and religious programs). Then I got Covid and had to isolate on my own for 10 days. I was pretty sick but survived and didn’t panic when I actually had it.”

The father-of-two says he continued to work on his farm during the first and second lockdowns and started making online appearances, which made him feel positive.

But as the world opened up again, stress and emotions started to build.

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

“Then in May of this year I had to speak to a specialist again. I contacted my local GP who let me know I was not alone. I called the HSE number and was put on a waiting list – but a few weeks later I was feeling really down.

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

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

James felt calmer after his first interaction with them and then got an appointment with a counselor he’s now seen “seven or eight times” who was a huge help.

He is learning to deal with emotions and turbulence again and has been able to perform a number of shows in recent months.

“You don’t have to be feeling suicidal to have emotional and mental health issues — but it’s important to learn to deal with them, no matter how you’re feeling,” he says. World Mental Health Day: ‘Finding ways to cope is crucial’ – Country singer James Kilbane opens up on depression and low self-esteem

Fry Electronics Team

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