Belfast Telegraph

My 20-year battle with depression, by Michelle Gildernew

A Sinn Fein MP has spoken out about her battle with depression, describing how there have been times when she has felt unable to cope with life.

Michelle Gildernew recalled days when she struggled to get dressed and leave her home as the illness took hold.

The Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP’s admission comes after a series of suicides in her constituency recently.

Speaking to the Impartial Reporter newspaper, Ms Gildernew said being asked by Sinn Fein to stand down as an Assembly Member and chair of the Stormont health committee had affected her mental health.

The 42-year-old revealed how she first experienced bouts of depression 20 years ago when she broke her ankle.

The injury happened while she was playing for the Aghaloo ladies GAA team in Co Tyrone.

Around that time her grandmother also passed away, another incident which had a deep impact on her life.

“I had broken my ankle playing football and losing my independence overnight was really tough,” she said. “One day you could jump in the car and go wherever you wanted and the next day you are relying on someone else.

“My grandmother died around the same time, so just a number of things happened in my life and I couldn't cope.”

She has been MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone since 2001 and was previously Agriculture Minister at Stormont.

“You try and put your best face on you,” she added. “There were times when I had to muster up the strength to go and see a constituent, go to a meeting, because that’s what was expected of you.

“It took all your energy to get dressed and get out the door. In the middle of it all you were dealing with other people’s problems as well as your own.”

She said at times she felt like “I couldn’t cope with the world outside”.

The mother-of-three admitted that she hadn’t recognised the signs, and it took several months before she realised that she wasn't coping.

It was only when she spoke to a friend who had suffered from depression that she realised that she, too, was suffering from mental health problems.

Ms Gildernew represented her constituency at Stormont for 14 years until June, when she stood down as MLA in line with Sinn Fein’s moves to end double-jobbing. Five months earlier she suffered a broken leg after falling down steps at Leinster House in Dublin. The changes have led to her mental health problems resurfacing in recent times.

Last month it emerged six people had taken their lives in 10 days across Fermanagh, a matter which upset Ms Gildernew.

“The recent suicides here were heartbreaking,” she added. “The past few months have been very tough on the people of Fermanagh.”

She believes the community as a whole “must work harder” in breaking the stigma of mental health problems.

”I’m okay, I will be okay, but a lot of people out there are not and they need to speak to someone.”

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Michelle Gildernew has been MP for Fermanagh/South Tyrone since 2001, winning the seat after the retirement of Ken Maginnis. At the 2010 election she defeated independent candidate Rodney Connor by just four votes. She represented the constituency at Stormont between 1998 and June 2012, including a term as Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development. Away from politics, she is a big GAA fan and likes music.

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