Ben Curtis of Drogheda Utd. In action against Patrick Hoban of Dundalk during the Jim Malone Cup match at Weavers Park February 2023. Photo Sportsfile.
Ben Curtis of Drogheda Utd. In action against Patrick Hoban of Dundalk during the Jim Malone Cup match at Weavers Park February 2023. Photo Sportsfile.

Original article by Marcus Cavaroli – Drogheda Independent 

Tue 16 May 2023 at 17:00
DROGHEDA United face the exciting prospect of taking on the champions Shamrock Rovers this Friday, but their talented teenage defender Ben Curtis won’t be making the trip to Tallaght as he has stepped away from football altogether to focus on his mental health.
Ben had been battling his way back from a serious hamstring injury sustained 11 minutes into the second game of the season – ironically against Shamrock Rovers – but he announced on Instagram last Friday night that he had sought help for the illness and the former underage international has since received hundreds of messages of support.

The 19-year-old Navan native’s mental health has been poor for several years and now he has gone public with his issues in the hope that it might help a few of the many thousands of young people in Ireland who are officially classified as depressed. Ben spoke to the Drogheda Independent this week about his own mental health and revealed that a key moment on the journey to where he is today came when he played in a derby match for Drogheda United against Dundalk earlier this year.

Looking back, though, to when his problems started, he said: “It was about three years ago. I was only young and I remember sitting in my room one day when I was at Shamrock Rovers and it was building up. I could feel it, but I didn’t know how to express myself and so I kept going on with it.
“I would use the words depression, anxiety and stress.
“I had some really low moments and a really bad time for me was when we played Dundalk in the Jim Malone Cup (in February of this year).
“It should have been a great day. I was starting and everyone was very proud (of me), but I remember coming out of that game thinking I wasn’t proud of myself one bit. I was never proud of myself.
“I remember being in my room thinking I had no idea what my purpose was in the world, and it didn’t help that I had a lot of tough injuries in my career.
“In the last three weeks, I was getting really bad and a lot of thoughts were coming into my head. Being honest, there was a stage when I wondered would I be better off if I wasn’t here, would it take away the pain.
“I knew I was never going to go through with it, but a friend of mine took his own life a few years ago.
“I knew I had to do something. My girlfriend, Holly, could see it (that something was wrong) and I came out to her at first, and then at 12:45 one night I contacted Liam (McGrath), the chaplain at Drogheda United. I get on with him very well and I told him I was struggling and we met up the next morning.
“The help I’m getting now is mostly through Liam and I’ve been on Zoom calls and phone calls, and the support of my dad Darren and my mam Lisa and my family and girlfriend Holly has been amazing.
“That was the most scary part, not knowing how my family would react. I didn’t want them blaming themselves because there was no way they would ever have known.”
Reflecting on what might have caused him to suffer with his mental health, Ben doesn’t blame the onset of Covid-19 which seemed to bring on many of the problems young people are suffering from today.
“A few people have asked whether Covid was a factor, but it wasn’t really,” he said.
Read more
▪ Ben Curtis Instagram post that got people talking about their mental health issues

“My family are such a footballing family and the four boys all play. I am the oldest of five kids and I felt I had to lead by example. I didn’t love football, but I pushed through it for (my brother) Sam because I wanted to be an inspiration to him.”
With his problems now out in the open, Ben feels that a weight has been lifted off his shoulders, and while there is no real cure for depression he feels he is in a much better place.
“It’s been a bit hectic these past few days with getting the message out,” he said.
“I was putting the post up on Friday night not knowing what was going to come out of it.
“But it’s been amazing the number of messages I’ve received from other people that were struggling, to say that it’s helped them, and I’m really glad about that.
“The post is at 3,000 likes and 200 comments and I wasn’t really expecting it to do as well as it has, but I thought it would be worth it if it helped one person to build up the courage to get help.
“It’s a massive thing in men especially that they feel they can’t speak out about stuff, and they have that thing where they feel they have to be strong and not show any emotions.
“I don’t think there’s a cure, but I think being able to speak up and seek help relieves it.
“I’ve settled down now and I’m doing really well. Helping others makes me feel a lot better.”
The decision to step away from Drogheda United is of course a blow for the team, but Ben has received the full support of the club.
“My philosophy is never say never, but I’ll be taking a step back for a few months and I think I know myself that I probably won’t be returning to play,” he said.
“I have to say that everyone at Drogheda United has been great with me, from the ground staff to Kevin Doherty. I get on with Kevin so well. He is an unbelievable coach and manager in the way he deals with players and puts them first as people.
“Speaking with him really helped me, and (assistant manager) Daire Doyle was unbelievable as well, and the characters in the squad like Gary Deegan and Adam Foley.
“It’s a crazy league this year and they’ve been playing incredibly well even through the results haven’t been going their way, but I think their luck will change and I’d love it if they managed to
beat Shamrock Rovers this week.”
As for the future, Ben feels that he won’t be stepping away from football altogether, even if he isn’t playing.
“My nana and grandad live in Spain and I’m going to go out there and take some time off and relax, and then I have a few job offers when I get back home.

“I’m very very interested in coaching and helping kids. I have first-hand experience with people struggling in the football world, so maybe I’ll go into something in psychological coaching.
“I won’t be getting out of football completely. I’ll be supporting Sam 100% and if he ever feels like he’s struggling I’ll be there to help him, and I’ll be up watching Drogheda.”

In a statement, Drogheda United offered Ben their full backing, saying: “Everyone at Drogheda United is incredibly proud of our young player Ben Curtis for having the bravery to speak about his mental health struggles. “We fully understand and support Ben’s decision to step away from football. “We wish him all the best and he knows he is always welcome in our club.”