Niall Breslin (Bressie)
Over recent times there has been a huge injection of positive and progressive interaction on mental health, on social media and various blogging sites. It’s important to take an objective view of this development and celebrate the gradual but very real erosion of an archaic and suffocating stigma. A blog that has been gaining much respect and exposure is the powerfully honest and personal sunnyspellsandscatteredshowers (a brilliant analogy and blog title).
Recently, the author of the blog, Fiona, made contact with myself over on twitter. It was regarding a Facebook and blog entry she posted regarding the portrayal of mental health in the media and the roles certain people play in this, including myself.
Reading the introduction it became clear that Fiona was quite irate with the roles certain mental health activists play in this country and within the media but as I read on, the context of the argument gained much more clarity and in fact understanding of the points being made by the blog.
The mental health conversation is deeply sensitive, subjective and in many cases complex. Rather than become polarised by the blog, we decided to connect and open up a conversation which in essence is going to be at the core of normalising the conversation around mental health in this country. Healthy and positive debate to allow for a greater collective understanding of the vast array of emotional and mental issues people face every day in Ireland is the way forward.
I am aware of my role as a mental health campaigner and I have, and never will try to tell anyone else’s story, it’s quite simply not my place. By telling my story I wanted to help enable others perhaps tell their own story, in their own time and in their own words. How this is portrayed by the media is simply not in my hands but rather than attack the media I feel it’s important to observe it in a different way.
Firstly, this is a relatively new conversation for this country. For decades it was spoken about in muted tones if at all, and it certainly wasn’t on the agenda when it came to mainstream media. To expect this to change overnight is not a fair representation of how the media works and to be fair, many of our media outlets, both print, radio, TV and new media are becoming much more prevalent and supportive in highlighting this and hence breaking down the stigma surrounding it. I have said it many times before, we must work together and collectively to help iron out the undoubted creases in our attitudes when it comes to societal perception of mental health, but we must also recognise the progress that is being made in the media.
From my own situation, I am well aware that I only represent my story, no one else’s, but the reality is regardless of what mental health difficulty a person deals with, we all share the same wish, that the stigma associated with mental health dissipates.
Fiona in her blog wrote about how I communicate is a sanitised version of mental health. I’ve been quite explicit about my own story which is in no way sanitised, and as mentioned that’s what it is – my story. The website I co-founded, A Lust for Life, is an open platform for everyone to share their own experiences, situations and stories as I’m aware my story is only part of the picture. Some of the personal stories we have shared are also powerfully raw and real, and we have shared people’s experiences of bipolar and schizophrenia as well as many others. The Bigger Picture section of our site is also there for anyone to campaign on and we encourage this, as we did with Fiona who previously shared her views, which we are grateful for as we want to highlight as many different voices as we can.
With regard to Fiona’s point about only reaching a certain part of the population – I and A Lust for Life can only do what we can do – we can never be everything to everyone – but we are working very hard to do our best and reach as many as we can. It’s up to all of us who feel called to this work to play our part in the best way we can and reach different communities in any way we can. That’s the beauty of all of us coming together and working collectively. Everyone connects and plugs in, in a different way.
Highlighting the woman in the psychiatrist’s waiting room who can’t pay her bills as ‘the real face of mental illness’ I feel might further promote separation rather than unity in our collective drive to erode stigma and to change our mental health system and how people are cared for in this country. Everyone in the country has a connection with mental illness, everyone has a story and all are equally relevant and important I believe.
Many people who use our website are also quite simply trying to maintain good mental health or in many cases trying to improve their mental fitness – something we passionately encourage, while many others may connect and relate to the often harrowing personal stories, or use our site to highlight their own campaigns. Others perhaps may be looking at signposts for immediate care. Others have joined us for events we have created, as we’ve been told bringing community together in this way had a hugely positive effect on their lives. Here is one such story from a young girl who couldn’t get out of bed for the previous 5 days, but somehow got herself out the day of our Phoenix Park run, and how it impacted her.
The fact is we are a very small social enterprise run by a handful of passionate and authentic individuals and we started out as a blog just like Fiona. Are we where we need to be yet? Of course not, but we are driving towards developing into something that can be of real benefit to society when it comes to education around our welfare. It is discussions and dialogues like this one I had with Fiona that will allow us tailor and bolster our work in a positive way and we take every last word of feedback and do our best to iron it out and put it into play.
It’s important that although we highlight a whole view point when it comes to mental health in the media, we must also highlight that recovery can be possible, while also promoting the destruction of the stigma associated with mental health.
It’s a long journey, but let’s travel it together to make sure the future is brighter for all of society.