I have a group of great friends who are smart, funny and talented. They have achieved Bachelor degrees, have loving families and a network of supportive friends. They have everything going for them. Out of this group of 8 friends, 7 of us have been to see a counsellor. My next instinct is to say “but I swear we are normal”, and cringe in admitting that there was ever a problem to begin with. But the truth is, we are normal. Normal that we have experienced hurt and sadness. Normal that we have fears and anxiety. And normal that at times can feel overwhelmed and need to turn to someone else for help and guidance. This is normal life.
For too long in Irish society issues of mental health and depression were complete taboo. Raised with notions that “Big boys don’t cry”, a duty to “suffer in silence” and the importance of a “stiff upper lip” suicide rates amongst young people in Ireland reached the 5th highest in Europe in 2014. I cannot think of a community across the country that has escaped the grief of experiencing the loss of a family member or friend through suicide and I also know now, this is why there has been a change in our society, a move towards speaking out and breaking the taboo of mental health. This is the reason people began talking.
One of the most powerful speeches I have seen given on the issue of mental health in Ireland was by Bressie, at the Lovin Dublin show in December 2014. I watched the video and cried. I thought of my own complete oblivion to those close to me who could be in the same situation. Those who put on a brave face every day and struggle with their problems in silence. The speech was both powerful, moving and helped open up an honest discussion about mental health issues in Ireland. A Lust for Life was set up as a successor to Bressie’s My1000Hours website, which was developed with “the aim of creating deep and long lasting social change”. The site contains articles on mental health and physical health, approaching the topics with both incredible sensitivity and refreshing honesty. Personal stories of the struggle of people all around Ireland and their journey toward positive mental health is core to the site, and highlight the incredible distance our society has come in opening up on the topic of mental health.
Spunout.ie is another brilliant site which talks openly and honestly on the subject of mental health. The site not only offers articles on mental health, but also offers advice to those trying to help others in their lives who may be going through a hard time or suffering from depression. There “6 Tips for Active Listening” may sound life something you think you already know, but we all must learn that there can be a huge difference between saying the right thing and what you think is the right thing.
Other articles included on Spunout.ie are those on dealing with anxiety, online counselling and challenging barriers to seeking help when you need it.
The struggle with mental health in Ireland is an ongoing battle, but the power of speaking out on our own experiences and problems should never be underestimated. There is a tendency in all of us to play down our own issues, compare them to those of others and reiterate meaningless phrases like “well at least I’ve a roof over my head”. Your problems cannot be rank in relation to the problems of others, as we all struggle in different ways and whether those problems seem big or small they deserved to be addressed. Should we only start exercising when we can no longer walk? Implement a balanced diet when we are already obese? Or choose to quit smoking when it is already too late? It is never too early to speak to someone about your mental health. Offence is the best defence (I know it is a cheesy line) but the more open we are about how we feel; our happiness and sadness in life, the easier it will then be if there comes a time when a more serious issue arises.