Belfast Telegraph

GAA referee Patrick Nelis: Cruel Twitter abuse drove me to attempt suicide

By Claire Cromie

GAA referee Patrick Nelis has revealed how a torrent of online abuse drove him to attempt suicide.

The Tyrone man, who now lives in Meath, took an overdose just weeks after refereeing the 2013 Meath SFC Championship final between victors Summerhill and rival club Na Fianna.

The game was broadcast on TG4 and in the hours that followed he was bombarded with abuse online.

“I took a lot of abuse on Twitter after the county final that affected me badly,” he said.

“I took serious abuse, people tweeting stuff like ‘the fat, red hamster’.

“I remember sitting at home reading that stuff in floods of tears. I kept reading it again and again, trying to get behind the reason people would say such things."

The 35-year-old revealed his battle with depression in a candid interview with the Meath Chronicle, in which he described 2013 as "a horrible year" when he suffered a breakdown.

Mr Nelis was looking forward to the final, but had worries about his recent split with his partner and weight he had put on, due to the medication he was taking for depression.

The game went well, but he felt he had made a few mistakes.

"Once the online abuse started I switched off my phone for days and never left my room for days at a time. Then I got an idea that if people are this cruel, what's the point in me hanging around, I can't take it anymore.

“I took the overdose but what I didn’t realise was that I had sent a text, halfway through it all, saying I was going to do something.

“I don’t remember sending it.

“My friend, who had a key, came around, found me on the bathroom floor. I was out basically cold. I was taken to Navan Hospital.”

A doctor said he was lucky to survive the amount of pills he had taken.

Mr Nelis, who is originally from Claudy, received hospital treatment for a few months and is now feeling back to his former self and returning to refereeing.

He opened up about struggle to encourage others to seek help with depression.

“Get help, there is help out there," he told the Chronicle. "I can’t say enough about the goodness of people who helped me. People in the GAA, friends, doctors, nurses, people in Kilmainham GAA Club - there are many people out there willing to help.”

Since the story was published he has received messages of support and thanks on Twitter.

Gay rugby referee Nigel Owens has previously spoken about homophobic abuse directed at him at matches and how he tried to kill himself at the age of 26 amid his struggle with depression.

And English Premier League referee Mark Halsey last year expressed his fear that a football referee could take his own life if he does not get more help in dealing with the pressures of the job.

If you have been affected by this article, the Samaritans can be contacted at (028) 90664422.

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