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!

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