Wayne McCullough has urged anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts to seek help urgently, after revealing his own struggle with mental health issues at the height of his boxing career.
Belfast-born McCullough, who held the WBC world bantamweight title between 1995 and 1997, said he almost took his own life at his Las Vegas home before his wife Cheryl realised what was happening.
In a candid interview with the Weigh In Boxing Show podcast, the former Olympic and Commonwealth medallist said that “getting hit on the head for a living” may have adversely affected his mind and judgment – but that he is eternally grateful that eventually opening up and talking to someone rescued him from tragedy.
“My wife didn’t even know what was going on,” he said.
“Nobody knew I was suicidal for about six months. That was in 1996. You’re thinking ‘I’m better off not being here’ because people around me were screwing me over, and I’m champion of the world.”
Known professionally as ‘The Pocket Rocket,’ McCullough said he was bottling up all of his worries until the pressure became volcano-like.
I would urge anyone who is feeling low or in any way considering taking their own life to reach outWayne McCullough
He said his plans advanced to the point where he was on the verge of suicide when Cheryl – who is normally a very sound sleeper – awoke unexpectedly and confronted him at 2am in a family area of their luxury home.
“She looked at me and said ‘what are you doing?’. It’s sad when I’m talking about his, it’s really sad. I think we just broke down in tears.
“I believe God sent her out that night because she sleeps deep. But for some reason, God wanted me to be here.”
Asked what triggered such dark thoughts, McCullough said, “I really don’t know,” but he believes the struggle to cope with fame played a major role.
He also revealed that his mental health and wellbeing improved almost immediately he sought help and began talking about his difficulties.
Within two years of hitting an all-time low, the McCulloughs were celebrating the birth of daughter Wynona in 1998.
“I’m so glad I’m here,” he said.
“Every time I look at my daughter, she’s a little piece of me and I just think – I would never have known her because she wouldn’t have been here.”
During the podcast interview, McCullough – who splits his time as a gym owner between Las Vegas and Los Angeles – invited anyone experiencing similar difficulties to contact him directly if they have no one else they feel they can talk to.
Speaking to the News Letter from his home in Los Angeles, McCullough said had been “overwhelmed” by the number of people who have shared their own experiences with him since he spoke about his own situation.
“I want to thank readers of the News Letter and my fans across the globe for continuing to support me. I’m overwhelmed by the number of people who have shared their own experiences of depression with me since I spoke again about a very dark time in my life which sadly reinforces the scale of the problem and reaffirms that, even though it feels like it sometimes, I’m not alone.”
The former world champion also issued a reminder that no one has to battle alone.
“Every day is still a struggle and I would urge anyone who is feeling low or in any way considering taking their own life to reach out. As well as talking to your own GP there are great charities in Northern Ireland that are only a phone call away. Please don’t suffer in silence. Don’t quit,” he added.
Anyone in Northern Ireland suffering a mental health crisis can ring the Lifeline helpline on 0808 808 8000, or the Samaritans’ UK and Ireland helpline number 116 123. Both numbers are free from landlines and mobile phones.