Two time Commonwealth Games boxing gold medallist Paddy Barnes has vowed to use his position as Sport Northern Ireland’s first ambassador for Wellbeing in Sport to help those struggling in society with mental health issues.
The Belfast fighter also won bronze medals at the Olympic Games in Beijing and London recently lost in his bid to win the world title against WBC Flyweight champion Cristofer Rosales has faced his own pressure in sport with the death of Ireland team mate Darren Sutherland and a gambling habit.
“I’m really honoured to be Sport Northern Ireland’s ambassador for Wellbeing in Sport and I am going to use the position to highlight mental awareness as much as I can and get rid of the stigma that if you’re masculine or seem to be tough you can’t talk to anyone and that is not the case ‘It’s ok not to be ok’ and just talk because when you talk to somebody about your problems it takes a great weight off your shoulders,” said Barnes
“It doesn’t discriminate against class, it doesn’t matter if you’re upper class, middle class or lower class it is a terrible illness that can strike anyone at any time and people need to be aware of that fact.”
Sutherland had also won a bronze for Ireland at the Beijing Olympics, the middleweight turned professional after China and won his first four fights all by knockout and was tipped as a future world champion before his tragic death in September 2009.
“It was a shock to the whole team and the Irish boxing community,” commented Barnes.
“The kind of personality Darren had, he was very outspoken, a great guy, very talented and very smart and he died under certain circumstances so it just goes to show it can strike down anyone.”
“Sometimes there are no signs whatsoever, and it’s hard to read people to know if they have problems and they won’t talk about them, people won’t show their problems, you really don’t know what’s going on in someone’s background.”
Barnes admitted that talking to his wife Mari was able to help him beat his gambling problem.
“I wasn’t feeling depressed over it or anything, it was more just frustration that I was addicted to something and I hated it.”
“I’d say I wasn’t gambling again because I lost something, and the next day I was doing it again, I was always chasing, it was the thrill of it, the rush, more than the money.”
“I was gambling and I talked to my wife, and then I stopped, but I started again. I knew I shouldn’t have been doing it.
“I was able to tell her I had a problem and once I did, I felt really relieved, “I’ve stopped gambling for that long now that I never thought about going back.”