Danielle McVeigh faced her hardest fight off the course: depression
Northern Ireland golf star Danielle McVeigh has spoken about overcoming her battle with depression and how she now feels like a "new person" ready to enjoy life again.
In a candid and thought- provoking interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the 27-year-old from Kilkeel told how she suffered from the illness for years before doing anything about it, questioned what she was contributing to life, and revealed how she lost interest in the sport that made her name.
McVeigh, who left professional golf behind two years ago and is now working in Dublin for a software company, also offered advice - and hope - to those suffering from depression.
Danielle was 11 when her father encouraged her to play golf. A decade later she was considered one of the hottest young prospects on the amateur golfing circuit, having won a host of tournaments at home and abroad including becoming the World Student Games champion in 2007.
More success would follow, notably in the prestigious Ladies British Amateur Championship, and in 2010 she excelled for Great Britain & Ireland in the Curtis Cup just a month after the death of her doting dad, Thomas.
Regarded as a smart player on the course, she was clever off it, studying for two years at Texas A&M University on a golf scholarship before returning to Ireland to gain an honours degree in Business and Management at NUI Maynooth in 2011, the same year McVeigh turned professional. Come 2013, she decided that level of the game was not for her.
And all the while she was fighting mental anguish.
As we chat, Danielle tells me she is a "private person" but is willing to talk about her condition for the "greater good and to try and help others".
Bravely speaking about her illness, she said: "The more I think about it, it was underlying for years but it only became apparent after my dad passed away. I think I dealt with that quite well. It was like I shut off all my emotions in order to be there as a support system for my family. It was six months after that when I was really struggling.
"I would have brief thoughts in the morning about not getting out of bed, but then I would just get up because I had things to do. I had to put my emotions to one side and get on with it and that's how I lived a good portion of my life.
"I don't think there was one particular day when I reached my lowest point, but there were times when I started to wonder what's the goal here, what's the point in the whole thing. That was a scary enough thought and that was as deep as it got. There was no taking it to the next step or anything, but I did wonder if I was making much of a difference in the world. I would go out with friends but I was withdrawn and not contributing."
Thankfully there was help at hand four years ago.
She recalled: "I was working at the Sports Instiute in Belfast and my coach at the time noticed I was really withdrawn and I remember the day when he said to me: 'What's going on here?' He talked about getting me some help.
"I had no money at the time and I didn't really want to have to start paying someone and didn't even know how to go about it. But then I was able to work with someone who had seen other athletes and I felt a level of trust there.
"I mentioned it to my brother because I was living with him at the time, but even then I didn't feel comfortable talking about it. There were only a couple of people who knew what I was going through. It was only at the far end of the counselling that I felt as though I could speak about it."
Happily Danielle, a charming lady with a sparkling smile, is now in a better place. Beaming with positivity, she declared: "I am coming through it. I feel like a different person now.
"A lot of people go through this, including sportspeople, and we tend to just soldier on. Luckily enough I had people around me who noticed and made sure I got help, which was very important.
"I have a better perspective on life now. I was always quite good at dealing with big issues but little things like missing a train or bus would really annoy me.
"I had to take a step back and realise if that is all I have to worry about, then life is not too bad.
"My message to people suffering from depression is to be open and honest with yourself and tap somebody that you trust on the shoulder, or put your hand up and say 'I need some help here'. It doesn't mean that you are weak or that you are a bad person. If you can tell someone, it really does help."
As for the golf, she is back playing again as an amateur with a plus two handicap and enjoying the sport more than ever, even when she was winning tournaments.
Danielle said: "At the time I didn't really care. I was just winning them because I was good at it. I was very level-headed when I won, even the British Amateur Championship. I had a few beers but to me it wasn't the be all and end all. Maybe that attitude helped me win but I'm not sure how healthy it was. I think it is much better if you can really celebrate your successes. I would have a good time now even if I didn't win."
Looking forward to attending next week's Open at St Andrews as a fan, Danielle added: "I have joined a golf club in Dublin and get to play nine holes after work. That's where my level is at. I'm loving going out and carrying my own bag. It is how I want to spend my evenings, which is a big difference from this time last year when I wanted to stay as far away from golf as I could."
Teeing off for charity classic
Golfer Danielle McVeigh is swinging her support behind a leading mental health charity's golf classic in Omagh this summer.
The former Curtis Cup star is working with Aware to launch the charity's Golf Classic in Omagh Golf Club and will play at the event on Friday, August 7. Danielle, who on these pages speaks about her own battle with depression, is a passionate supporter of Aware's work.
"The work Aware does to help people affected by depression and educate people about mental health is so important," she said.
Teams of four can now enter the event and there are great prizes up for grabs.
- To enter contact Omagh Golf Club on 028 8224 3164; Sinead Duddy: on 07876617638 firstname.lastname@example.org, or Margaret McCrossan on 077 1401 4757