Awareness is the Key in bringing light to mental health issues in Ireland





There are often that awkward moment when someone catches us talking to ourselves.  We can run through our daily routine, question what is going on in our lives or sometimes try pull ourselves through situations. We can often mutter words out loud, oblivious to those around us, as we carry on with everyday life. It can often be said that talking to yourself is the ‘first sign of madness’ but how aware are we of our own mental health?

Society today has become so advanced in biological and psychological research but when it comes down to the individual self, to our own health, how healthy is our mind?

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Mental health, in Ireland, has always been somewhat of a taboo topic, an awkward subject that was often dealt with by the “men in white coats’. In the past, Ireland’s mental hospitals or “lunatic asylums,” as they were often referred to, resembled that of Hollywood’s depiction; one of horror. The cold stone walls, incarcerating straight jacks and padded cells were just some of the terrifying features to be found.

The attitude to those with mental health issues, in Ireland, was addressed  in the House of Commons in 1817:

“When a strong man or woman gets the complaint [madness], the only way they have to manage is by making a hole in the floor of the cabin, not high enough for the person to stand up in, with a crib over it to prevent his getting up…This hole is about five feet deep, and they give this wretched being his food there, and there he generally dies.”

Yes, it seemed that for the outside world or if what they may have called in the past “the sane,” to be mentally ill seemed to be a burden for those in higher authority.


Ireland’s mentality

With the closure of these asylums from the 1980’s onwards, with time, humanity has advanced not only in the field of psychology but also in the importance of our own mental health. However, through extensive and continued studies, we are now beginning to unearth the frightening reality that occurs in so many lives and we question what factors of human progression may contribute to this rise.

It is shown that in Ireland, there are more deaths due to suicide than there are road deaths and we also have the fifth highest youth suicide rate in the EU. According to Mental Health in Ireland-Awareness & Attitudes, the main three factors linked with mental health problems; with Irish adults are alcoholism, depression and suicide. So why is Ireland hitting such high figures? Do we blame the type of society we now live in, where material objects hold importance, when those in the lime light (often many with little talent,) become figures in our lives that we feel we have to replicate? Perhaps it is the continuous strain of social events, high expectancy of what our lives should curtail, that is damaging our minds.


The term ‘health is your wealth’ seems to have been taken over by the need and more so the addiction to a “higher life.”   The flash car, designer labels and the expensive holidays abroad seem to have become our main priorities. These pressures have overshadowed the actual important elements of life such as family and health and we now seem to forget that it is our health and mentality that are the most priceless possessions. Has the concept of simplicity and gratitude been dominated by greed and why is it that many feel that suicide is their only option?




Men’s hidden side

It is here where we hone in on the male persona. When looking from society’s perspective the dominant male is depicted as one who will succeed, provide and lead without fear. For centuries the male figure has held this position and it was as if the emotional and sensitive side to the human being, only belonged to the female sex. For men to cry, to permit sensitivity was unspeakable, for them to address personal and mental worries ….unheard of.

A report conducted by Dr. Kevin Malone, Professor on the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Mental Health at UCD, showed that ‘suicide was the leading cause of death for young men in Ireland.’ Conor Cusack, former Cork hurling star, shared a powerful blog that gave an insight to his battle with depression. On the outside a man full of life, blessed with opportunity was secretly deteriorating on the inside. He conveyed how in life: ‘there is a safety in being hidden, but a tragedy never to be found.”  Again, is it the pressures of society to blame and how can we venture away from the stereotypical views of the past? The answer: awareness.

The 19th of November, in Ireland is now held as “International men’s day.” John Buckley, youth engagement officer of spoke to Ireland AM and stated how:

‘masculinity used to be very homogenous, that it was something you could prescribe to quite easily. The role models in your life were smaller pool to draw from. Now with the proliferation of online sources, models that come from not just Ireland but all over the world, we are seeing how men can relate and identify with masses of all different shapes, sizes and types.”

Recent reports from the Department of Health and the Health and Social Care Information Centre have shown men are three times more likely than women to become alcohol dependant and that they are twice as likely to be detained and treated compulsorily in psychiatric hospitals. How many lives need to be lost for the sake of pride? Mr. Buckley also spoke of how change is elusive and that as human beings we also need to change.


With the success of Movember, promoting awareness of men’s cancer, we are slowly but surely progressing but perhaps we still need to reassure many that it is ok to talk. So what is the worst thing that could happen by asking for help? A problem shared is a problem halved; a simple conversation may possibly save your life.

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Sinead Dalton 

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