The past four years were very tough for Munster Rugby coach Sana Govender but, he tells Emma Connolly, he’s now a ‘completely different person’ having reached out to others
MUNSTER Rugby’s Sana Govender says he was having consistent thoughts about taking his life four years ago.
And if it hadn’t been for a friend reaching out to him, and him seeing a counsellor, he honestly says he doesn’t know how things would have ended up.
The 26-year-old is now an ambassador for Movember – the global charity working to change the face of men’s health, and he’s sharing his story to help others.
Sana, women’s development officer and coach for Munster Rugby, said his mental health struggles weren’t as a result of any one big thing, but rather lots of small things that he allowed to build up, unchecked.
‘It was more from dealing with family life, not knowing the path I was taking, everyday struggles. But these can all build up to something serious if they’re not dealt with,’ he said.
He said that growing up, he never even really understood mental health issues.
‘I felt that I had to be tough, and I was very closed off to my emotions to the point where it was unhealthy.
‘It came to a point four years ago when I was finishing my masters in UCC, that there was so much stress and pressure bursting in my head that I just shut down.
‘I moved home to Skibbereen for the summer, and became very reclusive. Everything became too much, it all felt so overwhelming. I felt stuck wherever I looked. Things got very tough and I didn’t ever feel like I was good enough.’
He continued: ‘I don’t think it was a case of being on the road to taking my own life, but I was having a lot of consistent thoughts about it. A text from a friend made me snap out of that moment one day. My mindset switched. It’s like when the clouds break to let sunlight through, and I had that moment of clarity that I needed help.’
He said without that ‘moment’, he doesn’t know how things would have ended for him.
Despite feeling very afraid, he sought help from a counsellor which he said was the best decision he’s ever made.
Now through his work as a performance coach and psychologist, he works hard to make sure he has the tools to maintain his mental health.
These include exercise (he’s currently training for a half Ironman), and talking to his partner, Aileen Lordan from Schull.
‘I’ve put in a lot of work into myself and I know now how not to get overwhelmed. I know to check in with myself, see how I’m speaking to myself and being aware of my most consistent thoughts. I think we’re all very hard on ourselves, and show a lot of judgement and criticism.’
Sana points out that for him, happiness isn’t an ‘end state’, but a ‘live state.’
‘You have to live happy to be happy, and that doesn’t mean being joyful all the time. It’s about finding that neutral which make the highs higher, and the lows bearable.’
Sana moved to Skibbereen from South Africa with his parents, brother and sister when he was seven when his father took up a job with ESB International.
His ethnicity is South African Indian and he says he was at the receiving end of racism growing up, on the pitch playing rugby, and on nights out.
‘Yes, that made me angry in the moment, but that wasn’t a source of my mental health struggles – 95% of growing up here was the best time of my life. What I’m focussed on now is helping men and women to know there’s no shame in speaking up and looking for help.
‘There is always a way to move forward, but you must take action, you can’t just shut down.
‘The past four years have been tough, but I feel like a completely different person.’
Why it’s important to check in on your mates this movember
Movember is a month-long campaign to raise funds to support research and services into three of the biggest health issues facing men: mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer and testicular cancer.
The charity is urging people to ‘take action’ by checking in on a mate; open up the conversation about mental health and if something doesn’t feels right talk to a healthcare professional.
A new study by the charity revealed that nearly 60% of men never, or very rarely speak about their mental health.
Embarrassment, not knowing whom to speak to and not being able to find the right words were the top three reasons for not opening up.
Globally, a man passes away by suicide every minute, while in Ireland, three out of every four deaths by suicide are male.
The research also found that Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the emotional well-being of men, particularly among young men aged 18-24 with over 63% claiming their mental health has been impacted by the global pandemic, while 62% of those aged 35-44 also felt it had an adverse impact on their emotional well-being.
Since 2003, Movember has funded more than 1,250 men’s health projects around the world, challenging the status quo, shaking up men’s health research and transforming the way health services reach and support men.
Supporters are encouraged to either grow a moustache, move 60km in the month, host an event or take on an epic challenge.
All funds go directly towards supporting men’s health projects across mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer.