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Captain McGrath opens up on his mental health journey

Midfielder and captain Alex McGrath recently sat down for a conversation with Brandon Clift with the Mankind Project USA and Men Who Chatt, focusing on men’s mental health.

McGrath and Clift discussed the importance of men’s mental health, the impact of mental health growing up in their lives, how to have conversations about it in today’s world, as well as McGrath’s own personal struggles with mental health.

Clift and McGrath also dove into the significance of men’s mental health, drawing from their personal experiences. They reflected on how societal attitudes, particularly in their cultural upbringings – McGrath from England and Clift from Australia – often discourage men from discussing their emotions openly.

"You don't really talk about it, it's just something that you're told to get on with," said McGrath during the conversation.
"You have people here and there trying to push you in the right direction, to, to open up a little bit. But, growing up, you're at school, playing football, whatever sport you're playing, it's not really spoken about. So it's something that you try and figure it out yourself."

The conversation moved to the risk of opening up about mental health and why McGrath may have found it difficult in the past. He acknowledged the stigma and the reluctance he felt in discussing his issues openly.

"Again, it's probably that stigma of it. You never talk about it with your mates. You never got that deep in conversation. You just turn up to school, you turn up there to play football, cricket, whatever it was. And that's what you were there to do. You never felt like you needed a shoulder to cry on because you never wanted to get to that point where like, oh he's weak, he's crying or he's talking about something that would never come up in a social environment. So when you're spending every day with your mates and with different people, it's just a topic that would never come up."

Chattanooga FC midfielder Alex McGrath looks on during the match against Orlando City B on May 4, 2024

'Felt like a weight off my shoulders'

He also emphasized the importance of destigmatizing conversations around mental health.

"Just little things like opening up and having little chats, even with your mates, as much as you don't realize, it's not a therapy session, but those little bits of advice maybe here and there. I think that goes a long way and not everyone has that opportunity and not everyone is probably at that point in their life where they're willing to do that. So, I just hope that these little things we speak about hopefully get to one person and they maybe go and speak to a friend or speak to anyone."

McGrath then shed some light on his struggles with mental health, and in particular, with Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

"I’ve had a lot of OCD tendencies, which some have actually helped me, but then some got to the point where it was like ruining my life and ruining where I think I was going and just how I was feeling in general. It was one of those where it's hard to say exactly why I was doing it because at the time I didn't know and I was just young."

McGrath talked about how he struggled talking to his dad due to his fear of appearing weak. It took years for him to seek help until he was finally suffocated by his issue and reached out.

"And then thankfully, just speaking with someone, just being able to—I'll never forget the first time I ever went and spoke with a therapist. I think that sometimes that's almost a stigma in itself as well, but just having someone speak to is so important. I'll never forget, after the first time of going, it felt like a weight off my shoulders. And it gave me a different perspective to look at the issues I was having."

McGrath’s journey exemplifies the power of seeking help and opening up about mental health struggles. By sharing his story, he hopes to encourage others to break the silence and seek the support they need.

Clift has organized an event called “Men’s Mental Health Matters'' in relation to Men’s Mental Health Month in May. The event will take place in Downtown Chattanooga on May 11th from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Miller Park.

Watch the entire interview in the video above.