Determined Kellie is a fighter and an inspiration to others

By Hayden Moore

WHEN Kellie McLoughlin had to undergo 12 bouts of electroconvulsive therapy to treat her acute mental health issues, the 20-year-old was at her lowest point having escaped from the psychiatric ward in St James Hospital on two occasions.

Kellie would get transported to Tallaght Hospital every Tuesday and Thursday throughout August and September of 2018 for the electrical brain therapy, and at the time her family could not even imagine that she would be lifting a National Senior Boxing Championship title within just 13 months.

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Kellie McLoughlin in Drimnagh Boxing Club

“We didn’t know if she would ever come home,” explains Kellie’s mam, Trish.

“When Kellie was first admitted, we told nobody. It wasn’t that we were embarrassed or ashamed, it is the stigma that is attached to mental health.

“It’s so much easier to say your daughter is in hospital from appendix trouble or surgery.

“How do you tell people about depression and how bad a person can actually get, that your daughter is constantly planning ways to end her life.”

To get a grasp of how it got to that point, it’s important to understand the role that sport has played in the Rialto family’s life, with Kellie trying her hand at just about anything that involved exercise from a young age.

Having played camogie since her last year in St Pius X National School in Terenure when she joined Faughs GAA Club, Kellie joined Ballyboden St Enda’s in her Féile year before also picking up boxing for the first time when she was 16 years of age.

Along with her younger brother Jake, Kellie completed a summer camp in Crumlin Boxing Club and was immediately gripped by the sport, but the timing was all off as the pressures of competition began to take its toll.

“Kellie was always very hard on herself. She would come off the pitch crying after playing a camogie or a football match saying she played shit,” said Trish, who is a qualified fitness instructor.

“She always thinks that she could be better, she’s so hard on herself, but that’s one of her traits, she’s such a perfectionist.”

A talented half-back and midfielder, Kellie had been a part of the Dublin Development Camogie squad for two years, won gold at the Haringey Box Cup in London, and was coming into her Leaving Cert year – which brought on its own pressure.

“A lot of people have a trigger or trauma in their past but I don’t have anything, I was told that there is actually nothing that brought it on for me,” Kellie told The Echo.

“I know that a lot has to do with school. I was trying to fit in because I have dysgraphia, which is sort of like dyslexia except it’s when I’m writing on paper and I would get a laptop for exams and stuff.”

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With the pressure of competing at a high level in sport constantly on her mind and the stress of studying for her Leaving Certificate, Kellie’s mental health started to rapidly deteriorate.

Just as school was starting back in September 2017, Kellie was discovered at home after attempting to take her own life.

“She was discharged on the same night and I just brought her to school the next day. I didn’t know what to do, but at least she was safe when she was there,” said Trish.

“We had her at the doctor a couple of times but they always said she was okay; she was never taken seriously and always overlooked.

“They always thought that it’s just being a teenager because, especially with girls, they can have a lot of issues with hormones.

“They always say speak about your mental health but how can you when all of the services are booked up for months?

“We did get a session in Pieta House within a few days and had 10 sessions.”

However, by January of last year, Kellie went to the doctor to explain that she was feeling low – and explained that she was experiencing suicidal ideation.

After arriving back from a competition with Drimnagh Boxing Club in May, where Kellie began training under the guidance of her father Karl, she checked herself into hospital saying that she had been dealing with depression and anxiety but was discharged.

After being trailed with different types of anti-depressants and admitted to St James’s just a week later, Kellie was allowed to go off the ward but again she attempted to take her own life.

Kellie made two attempts on her life while admitted as a patient in St James’s Hospital, with the second time in August 2018 bringing up the possibility of electroconvulsive therapy.

Kellie told The Echo: “I just didn’t care anymore. I was at a point where I was like ‘do anything, please’.”

“We just didn’t know what to do, we were at our wits’ end and her doctor had been on call that weekend and he suggested that we do this electric shock treatment – it felt like it was the only thing left,” added Trish.

After going through 12 bouts of electroconvulsive therapy, Kellie began getting panicked, believing nothing would work.

“You’ve to fast the night before. It’s like they put these monitors on one side of your head and if it doesn’t work, they do the other side,” said Kellie.

“They put a mask on your face to put you under anaesthetic, so you’re asleep when it happens and it’s only about 30 seconds.

“They put the volts up to a certain level and the more you do, the higher they put up the volts.”

Kellie was temporarily discharged to attend the funeral of well-known boxing coach Sean Carton, and as her mother Trish explains “she saw how upset people were about him passing and I think she just didn’t want people feeling that way about her, something just kind of changed for her”.

Discharged just a month later, in January of this year, Kellie started training again and set her sights on the 57kg National Senior Boxing Championship title – and put the wheels in motion when she won the Celtic Box Cup.

The fighter achieved her goal in November following a tremendous 4-1 split decision victory over Curragh ABC’s Kelsey Leonard – the same opponent she beat in the Celtic Box Cup just two months previous.

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Kellie McLoughlin after winning the National Senior Boxing Championship title (Image: Tara Robins Mari)

“It was such a feeling of relief. When I got out of hospital, I wanted to win the Nationals, but it was unrealistic at the time,” said Kellie.

Trish added: “She proved a point. She proved that everything is achievable and I have to say when she won I had to take a step back and say ‘do you know what, she is absolutely amazing’. Who does that?”

Although she did surmount the challenge in the ring, the TU Dublin–Tallaght Campus Sports Science student’s battle with her mental health continues every single day outside of the ring.

“We’re always worried about it,” said Trish.

“It’s not something that just disappears, it’s an illness. It’s like with cancer you can see it in scans but you cannot see what’s going on inside somebody’s brain – and that’s the problem.

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“Because people can’t physically see it, it’s not taken seriously.”

Kellie finished: “Some people seem to be doing good, but you just don’t know what they’re thinking.”

“Getting up in the morning is the main thing for me, if I don’t get up then you know I’m having a bad day.

“I have a personality disorder, it’s called Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, that means I take things in too much.

“I overthink things too much, like I used to have a lot of fights with people and then blame myself immediately after it because I have a fear of feeling lonely.

“You feel like you’re the only one to have anything like that and that I’m over-exaggerating, that I’m fine and shouldn’t be saying anything, but I know that if I had told people from the start then I wouldn’t have got as bad as I did.”

Now 21 years old, McLoughlin continues to attend Dialectical Behaviour Therapy each week and, after concluding her exams in college this week, Kellie will begin her journey towards representing Team Ireland at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

If you have been affected by this story and need support, please contact:

Pieta House Dublin South in Tallaght call 01 462 4792,

Pieta House Ballyfermot call 01 623 5606

Pieta House Lucan call 01 601 0000

Visit the charity’s website at www.pieta.ie.

HOPE Suicide Prevention Centre Tallaght Facebook page

Or call 087 1363082 and Samaritans 116 12316

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