Conor McGregor’s cruel online attack on comedian PJ Gallagher exposes his very outdated views about men and mental health
Genuinely, I thought it was a deepfake at first.
t couldn’t be real, I reasoned.
There is no way in the world a reasonable person would react to someone else’s mental health struggles like this.
In the end, the tweet – since deleted – was very much real. And the “reasonable” person in question was Conor McGregor, MMA fighter and supposed grown-up.
You might have missed the online mayhem yourself, so here’s a quick recap: over the weekend, comedian PJ Gallagher shared a message of hope, on the first anniversary of his admission to hospital.
Gallagher reflected that his mental health challenges were so acute that he was “absolutely torn up inside and scared out of my sh**e about what was to happen next”.
Gladly, Gallagher, whose mother died just last month, is in a much better place after a course of treatment, which he received as part of a stay at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services.
“I’m far from a professional and I don’t have a lot of advice to give anyone. Also I was very privileged to even get into the hospital at all,” Gallagher tweeted. “All I’ll say is, no matter how bad you are, there is a road back.”
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Given how parlous a state today’s mental health services are, this was a gladdening, hopeful despatch from the other side of an acute depressive episode. It was especially heartening to hear a man – and a famous one at that – knock down that stigma around mental health fragility and masculinity which, make no mistake, still appears to exist.
And then Conor McGregor, evidently tweeting from his phone at 1.32am, waded in with his tuppenceworth, for reasons best known to himself.
“You sad little pox of a thing,” he tweeted. “Sit up right and smile for a change will you.” He tweeted more vile insults, none of it worthy of repetition, although he did accuse Gallagher amid his rant of “crying in the paper bout depression”.
What followed online was little short of a panto. The clapback was mighty, with thousands of online commenters rallying behind Gallagher and reminding everyone what an obnoxious lowlife and bully McGregor has been, even before this week. The consensus was overwhelmingly clear: ridiculing someone for opening up about their own vulnerabilities was craven and classless. A whole new low. Even by McGregor’s standards, this comical level of posturing was next-level stuff.
Things took such a bizarre turn when footballer Paul McGrath then waded into the fray: “PJ take no notice of bullies, you’re loved by everyone. Whatever you do don’t let him get the better of ya pal. Stay well Top Man,” he tweeted.
McGregor’s original stream of invective was eventually deleted. Yet the aftertaste has hung on.
There’s something slightly chilling about McGregor’s online rant, perhaps because it is reminiscent of what men with mental health challenges were told years ago, before the stigma of mental health was broken down… well, by people like PJ Gallagher.
Sit up right. Boys don’t cry. Man up. Grow a pair. Crying about depression. It’s the sort of outdated, yet once-pervasive way of thinking that has doubtless caused untold damage for a whole generation of men. How many lives have been lost to the “man up, it’s just depression” rhetoric down the years, I shudder to think.
Yet seeing just how resoundingly unpopular McGregor’s tweet has been is interesting to say the least. It is tone-deaf in the extreme, which should probably come as no surprise.
When you become a man surrounded by yes-men and hangers-on, it’s highly likely that you’ll become out of touch with the reality of actual, everyday life.
What’s really tragic is that Conor McGregor could have been one of our greatest ever role models.
He has no shortage of determination and self-belief, but his particular brand of masculinity, spiked with aggression and obnoxiousness, is something we should be moving away from.
As for McGregor’s 9.7 million-strong Twitter following? It’s safe to assume that some of them are young, impressionable men looking for a role model. I can only hope that when they see this exchange, they’ll be able to realise who the real warrior is.
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