Guest Post #10

The World Health Organization defines mental health as "a state of well being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community"

NUI Galway some weeks ago hosted its Mental Health Day. Surveys were conducted, positive mental health packs were handed out and events to promote thinking and talking about mental health were the order of the day.

Everyone was stopped along the corridors and asked ‘Do you know someone who has suffered from a mental health issue’ the ticks in the YES column far out weighed the NO. The prevalence of mental health illness in Ireland and especially with our young people is shocking, and yet with it effecting so many people we have a fear of discussing it. Statistics from the WHO suggest that nearly half the worlds population are affected by mental health illness. Given the worlds population passed 7 billion in March 2012, this number account for 3.5 BILLION people. That essentially is 1 in every 2 people effected; be it themselves, a family member, friend or colleague.

I have been very fortunate not to have ever suffered from depression or any serious mental health concerns, I have made a very conscious decision and taken action to ensure that I look after myself and keep myself in check. While I don’t have the experience first hand of mental health illness, I do know what it is to be not well. I have a heart condition that will require me to take medication for the rest of my life and in time I will have to have some corrective surgery. With this diagnoses I was naturally devastated. There were people jumping to help me in any way they could and people were very kind. I often wonder if I had been diagnosed with depression would the reaction be the same?

There is still that cloud over mental health and a stigma a kin to...I don’t know if there is anything comparable...well perhaps STD’s. People get it, often among young people its very high in numbers and no one wants to suffer from it. You get the few who will stand up and say yes this is what I have and I am going to solve this but not many are this brave. Often its with reluctance sufferers go see their doctors for fear of judgment. Yet if you suffer from a heart condition or cancer, people jump to help and empathise with you and often when the news that someone is depressed, has attempted to take their own lives there is an uneasiness and the same care and sympathy is not extended. But, I think that is fear, fear you might miss something, fear of responsibility, fear of the unknown and ultimately fear of loss. As a nation we need to ensure that this fear is wiped out. We know that education and arming ourselves with information and through good preparation that fear lessens and eases. Perhaps the fear will never go away but I would suggest that a total lack of it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What we fear most we strive in life to ensure won’t happen and if it means we talk more, look after ourselves and our loved ones and watch out for each other more it can’t be a bad thing. So perhaps instead of a wipe out of the fear we should be encouraging an acknowledgment of it. Because when someone you love is suffering from a mental health illness it can be the most frightening thing you can go through.

We still don’t understand it fully, and without any physical illness or sick looking people there is a skepticism that often its just overtly sensitive people. The ‘suck-it-up’ or ‘man-up’ is often why so many suffer in silence. All too often, I know from friends who have suffered from this terrible scourge (because thats what it is), No one would willingly choose to suffer from a mental health illness and it is with kindness, love and patience we need to approach it. My very good friend once had a depressive spell and out of us all I knew it was imperative to help her in any way I could. Be it making her day easier, bringing her to speak to the right people and letting her know I was there and always would be. To this day she still remarks how important to her that was and thankfully she is doing great now and is thriving. While I so grateful that she could come full circle and look after herself and get better, It saddens me that the reaction we both received, me for my dodgy heart and her for her dark spell was not the same.

Changing how we view mental health should be our priority. Remove the negative association with those two words and put the emphasis on what the WHO describes and defines! We all want to be able to become the best version of our selves and be able to cope and handle all that life will undoubtedly throw at us. Good mental health is something everyone should strive for and seek to maintain, for themselves and those around them. Perhaps what my university did should be a national day, where in schools, workplaces and even shopping centers everyone is asked ‘How are you feeling?’ and ‘Are you ok?’ and fun stress free things are the agenda for the day. Acknowledge the fear and bring down the walls fear puts up? It only takes one person to make a start, and wonderful courageous young women like Siobhan are taking that step. She is leading by example and we all should follow suit. Well Done Siobhan! Keep it up!

Time to have a chat

Last Friday night something happened to me that I never thought would happen to me. Last Friday night I went to a Fashion show in aid of Barnardos and not only was it an amazing night I also got to meet some amazing people. One of the people I got to meet was Norah Casey. An Irish business woman with a heart of gold. Needless to say I was in shock when I saw her walk into the room and I was over the moon to get in a picture with her and never in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to be given the chance to sit with her and have a chat with her.

Myself and Norah Casey @ Angels for Barnardos

We began to have a chat about things and it wasn’t long before we found a topic we had in common. Mental health, not mental illness mental health. It wasn’t long before my dad- who was very embarrassing told Norah that I had won blog awards and that I do work with charities associated with mental health. Knowing that mental health is a subject that I am passionate about she said she would like to get me on her radio show for a chat and to my dismay that is just what she did. 

Its not that I didn’t trust Norah Casey when she said she would like to get me on the show to have a chat with her about mental health I just didn’t think she would have got into contact with me as soon as she did. On Monday while debs dress shopping with my friends I got a number of phone calls from both my dad and people working with NewsTalk to arrange an interview LIVE on Tuesday morning.

Once I got over the shock that I would have to get up early on Tuesday morning I was over the moon with excitement. I couldn’t wait to get another chance to share my story with people who actually want to listen and who actually care about what I have to say. As dress shopping continued which I soon became restless and bored of the thoughts about Tuesday morning flooded my mind and I soon began to become extremely nervous. If shopping wasn’t bad enough I was now consumed with thoughts of what if I mess up? Or What if I can’t think of what to say.

Bright and early on Tuesday morning my dad work me up at 6.50am- 6.50 during my Easter holidays!!!! Once I woke up the nerves began to get really bad and by the time I had arrived at the NewsTalk studio I was shaking. My dad and my cousin Aidan couldn’t even calm me down. There were times I even thought about not going live on air because I was so scared. I must say if the interview was with anyone other than Norah Casey I don’t think I would have managed to do it. She calm me down and put me at ease and as soon as the interview began I was flying. You wouldn’t even have thought I was as nervous as I was and it was because of Norah Casey I was able to do as well as I did.

If you would like to listen to the interview please click here and search for the Breakfast show Tuesday the 26th. Not only was this post to tell you about the interview and to tell you about the fact I got to meet Norah Casey it was also to say a huge thank you to Norah Casey but also to all of the staff at NewsTalk for giving me the chance to share my story and to raise awareness of mental health. Also a huge thank you to my dad for driving me there and buying me hot chocolate afterwards.

Guest Post #9

I first got to know Siobhán towards the end of third year, and in TY we got to know each other a lot better when we were put in the same class. Siobhán is incredibly honest, so it was clear from the beginning that she was suffering from a mental illness; she never kept it a secret and that helped us to understand her better. I always admired her for this because although a lot of people don’t speak up about mental health, Siobhán has always wanted people to talk about it and give it the attention it badly needs.

We had always known Siobhán suffered from depression, but my friends and I began to notice that she was beginning to struggle a lot towards the end of TY. Things started to go downhill for her at the beginning of fifth year, and to be honest, it was hard for us to see one of our close friends in such a bad place. Nobody tells you what to do, or how you can help when someone you’re close to is battling against a number of mental issues. I think this is why it’s so vital that we aren’t afraid to talk about mental health. Being friends with Siobhán has really opened my eyes to positive mental health, and I really respect all the work that she is trying to do, for example with Think Big. We do our best to support all this extra work she is doing, and hopefully she knows that she can ask us for help at any time!

My advice to anyone that’s feeling down is to speak up, talk to someone you trust such as a friend, a family member or a teacher. I know that it’s clichéd, but a problem shared is a problem halved. The only way the stigma associated with mental health will go is if people are open and unbiased.

 Just remember that you’re not in this alone, and no matter how down you feel: there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

Photo of the day. :)

I have very strange friends :/

Guest Post #8

Mental health is defined as “a psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioural adjustment.” It can manifest as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia and much more.

There are many different ways of dealing with these various disorders, be they medication or counselling, but the thing is how do you know if your suffering from a mental illness? Everybody has up days and down days, but some people have more down days than up. The difference is, people suffering from depression generally become disconnected and isolated from reality and it becomes difficult to “deal” with life. This feeling of isolation and disconnection (of which humans fear) results in people minimizing their own emotions essentially numbing themselves. When this happens, some people become unable to cope and turn to self-harm and suicide as methods of dealing with the emotional turmoil experienced by people suffering with depression etc.
When a person self-harms, they are not doing so to “fit in” or to “be accepted”, they are doing so as a cry for help.

Self-harm is not only cutting. Binge drinking, smoking, nail biting, hitting, scratching, asphyxiation, physical inactivity and food restriction are also examples of behaviours which fall into the category of self-harm. It just so happens that for some reason, unlike cutting and burning, these methods of self-harm are all more or less socially acceptable.

Some people think that people who self-harm are doing so as an attempt of suicide. This, for the most part is not true. This is merely a myth. During the early stages of self-harm, most cuts are superficial and if the cutting is continued it becomes a major issue as people will develop a relationship between sadness and self-harm. People who suffer from self-harm do so, not because they are ‘mad’ but because they are distressed. It is an attempt to cope with difficult and strenuous emotions; they don’t know what else to do. 

“It is a way of expressing, and sometimes the only way of communicating pent-up, over-powering feelings…and can distract from self-harm”
-Joan Freeman

Photo of the day. :)

Proud of my big brother :)

Guest Post #7

Anyone can write an article on bullying - teachers, students and even bullies themselves - but what's wrong with many of these articles is that they're no more than an outside view on bullying. An article written by some who's experienced bullying themselves will always be more powerful than one written by someone else, and the lack of articles such as these is why I asked Siobhán if she'd let me write this for her blog. I experienced bullying firsthand during my first two and a bit years in secondary school, I wasn't the typical "guy" being uninterested in sport and coming from a family of mainly girls, so was targeted and suffered from verbal and (to a lesser extent due to my size) physical bulling. I was constantly slagged, pushed, had my stuff robbed, had my stuff thrown back at me and as the year went on, somedays I hated coming into school. Thankfully halfway through second year I got the courage to do something about it and after a few weeks it began to improve until finally in third year it had stopped and I began to move on. I know not everyone is able to do the same as me and that a lot of you have it a lot worse than I did and I'm hoping this article will help people understand just what its like to be a victim of bullying, and help some of you escape from it. 

The thing I found worst about bullying was the shame and embarrassment that was associated with it. You sometimes feel as if it's YOUR fault, as if you're doing something to deserve the bullying, that you're the one who should be changing to stop it. Sometimes you can spend nights trying to figure out what you're doing "wrong" to deserve the treatment. The shame that you feel because you're being bullied can stop you from ever talking to someone about it, but I've realised by now that there's no shame in being a victim of bullying. It's the bully who's to be ashamed, it's the bullies who should be changing, not you. This shame that people feel is a bully's greatest weapon, it's why it took me so long to report it and I'm sure it's why many of you haven't either. No one has the right to have such power over you, to have you trapped this way! Many people who've never been bullied in their lives think that once it stops then everything's all right, they don't understand that sometimes the taunts can haunt you. The poem "Truth" (below) is one which I felt showed just how powerful and damaging these taunts and insults can be. For me, even if a close friend uses the insults the bullies did, even as an obvious joke, my mind does a mental flinch. The longer you let the bullies go on, the deeper these mental scars can get, I urge you all not to let it go on as long as I did, all it takes is for you to take the first step and tell someone, whether it be a friend, parent or teacher you can trust. Once you get that weight off your chest everything starts to get easier. I wish I'd gotten out sooner, but I've decided to try and help those who are still being bullied through this article. 

Don't go on suffering in silence, the sooner you stop the bullies the sooner you can shake off the mindset they caused and move on in your life. You may feel alone in it, but be assured there're many more victims of bullying around you than you notice. Like this blog says, there's always light at the end of the tunnel, life gets better as you grow up, and it's up to you whether you want to overcome the tormentors and let your experiences strengthen and motivate you to help others, or leave it to fester. We all daydream about getting help, please make these dreams a reality! 

Truth : By Barrie Wade

Sticks and stones may break my bones, 
But words can also hurt me. 
Stones and sticks break only skin,
While words are ghosts that haunt me. 

Slant and curved the word-swords fall
To pierce and stick inside me. 
Bats and bricks may ache through bones,

Keep Calm

Guest Post #6

Are you alright?

This is the most important question I ever ask a student. Some days I could see a student who looks sad, or worried, or fed up, or stressed. I always ask 'Are you alright? If the student wants to talk, I'll make myself available to them, if not I let them go but I will always ask one of the school counsellors to check in on them later. 

Talking is important. Most teachers I know would be happy to talk with a student and afterall school is where students spend up to 7 hours of their days so it makes sense to find a teacher that you feel comfortable talking to. If a student chooses me to talk over their problems with, great, if not there are always other teachers, tutors, year heads and counsellors. As the old saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved, and often that half gets reduced even more when you verbalise your thoughts. Talking helps us to express feelings we never expressed before and this can help us find what to do, heaaring us speak our problems helps us find our own solution so to speak.

Talking is even more important when you have mental health issues. If a student talks to me I know when their problems are beyond my capability to solve and I suggest they see one of the school counsellors who are more able to help. While we are happy to listen, a teacher's area of expertise is in their classroom afterall and a counsellor's area of expertise is in the welfare of our students. So don't feel rejected if your friendly teacher suggests you talk to someone else.

I know this system works. I've been teaching for 32 years and have been a shoulder to cry on, or a listening ear, to many students. I also have seen the whole system come together to help students reach a positive outcome. Isn't that what is most important?

Talking gives people an opportunity to tell their story, and, in the telling, they find relief and an easing of their emotions. So find a friendly teacher and take the opportunity to talk - you'll feel so much better.


Angels for Barnardos

I believe that there are people in the world that want to make a difference and I believe that there are people in the world that are actively doing something to make a difference. There is a difference you see, some people want to make a difference but don’t while others want to make a difference and work hard to achieve this goal. In Ireland there are many different groups of people who are working hard to make a difference in all different areas of society. Often these groups of people develop into organisations and go from strength to strength making a difference. 

One such organisation is Barnardos. Barnardos is an amazing charity which is mainly child focuses but also deals with many aspects of family life and family relationships. In the past I have heard great things about this charity as well as hearing about many people working hard to help this charity help the lives of children around Ireland. I believe that this is a very worthwhile charity that is truly needed, not only in Ireland but all around the world. In my opinion we need more people that work in barnardos all around the world making a difference instead of just wanting to make a difference.

Every time I hear of someone wanting to do something for a charity like this I am delighted because charities need support from the public in an way possible. Every now and again I am shocked at the amount of work people put into helping charity and giving them support. Recently I learned about an event that is going to help and support barnardos. This event form just looking at the poster has just blown my mind. You might be wondering why and well my reason is that it is clear that the amount of work gone into organising this event has been more than a person could imagine. Take a look at the poster below and you might understand what I'm talking about.

On Friday March 22nd, the Green Angel cosmetics company is hosting a fashion show - Angels for Barnardos. Tickets cost €35 and include a drinks reception and a goodie bag, along with fantastic spot prizes.  It takes place in the Ballsbridge Hotel and entertainment will be provided by Cathy O'Connor and Noel Cunningham of TV3, and Mary Byrne of XFactor. 

You see, the people who have organised this event to me are the hero’s of today’s world. These people take time out of their busy day to day lives to work as part of a team to make a difference. I look up to people such as the organisers of events like this and one day I too hope to be able to work with others to help raise awareness and make a difference in our society. So it is important that we all gather together and support organisers of this event. It is important that we all join together and help support this amazing charity. So if you have nothing to do this Friday why not head down to the fashion show? It promises to be a great night with some amazing people and its all for a good cause. Who knows if you go you might even win a spot prize! So if you would like to pop down and have a night at this fashion show here are all the details you need:

Date: Friday March 22nd
Time: 7.30pm
Location: Ballsbridge hotel
Price: €35
Purchase tickets by phoning:  01 4124900 or 087 7375 210

And just remember all proceeds are going to charity!!

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