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.

This article has 3 Comments

  1. Hi..I have been in the remit of the hse mental health services since 1991.it is and has been a hard journey..the services I attain under my docter due to him and his team are and have changed for the better.but for us there are many different types of medical conditions that are usually dealt with by a small select number of drugs.but what my team are doing is using therapy and psylogist to aid treatment.one thing I find is before I took my emotions for granted..they did not impact me in any big way.nor did they really impact those around me.but since I had my first breakdown that all changed.I could not deal with my emotions. And this impacted those around me.all these years I and those around me saw my emotions as a sign I was unwell..but in the last few years I have been using therapy to learn again what emotions are for..I now see that for some reason I saw emotions as a weakness .but I am learning to get used to them again.the drug therapy in some ways was used to suppress my emotional being..this is wrong.because if our emotions are suppressed we can’t function..the reality becomes dulled.when we had drug changes or come off drugs emotions are the first we feel..they are and were to me something I could not deal with..nor could others..now my medical team are teaching me to deal with them again..it has been a long hard lonely journey..but thanks to the caring nature and more important the way my medical team have seen us as human they are at the forefront in the hse of development in New ways to change lives for the better. .but those in the hse do not want this change
    .my docter is Malcolm garland..he is unique..

  2. ‘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.’

    With the greatest of respect, I feel this highlights just how you have missed the point here. Highlighting the woman in the waiting room who cannot pay her bills is not fostering separation. It is asking that the far less palatable and far less marketable (yes, marketable: ‘mental wellness’ is abundantly open to being exploited as a means of making money or furnishing a lifestyle blog with a sense of authenticity. We have to be able to say this) version of mental illness be recognised. It has a strong class dynamic underpinning it. When you are ill with your mental health in this country you have to pay at least 50 euro to get to the GP to be given a prescription for medication that might cost about 30 and you will then be expected to secure counselling for yourself – they will not pay for it – and pay up to seventy or eighty a week for this lifeline. Forget about psychiatric diagnosis, it costs hundreds if not thousands, so you must wait for the HSE to get its finger out, and I personally have now been waiting nine months for a basic evaluation.

    Furthermore, who are you to say what should and should not be included in our so-called ‘collective drive’ to change mental health provision in Ireland? Who are the custodians of this ‘collective drive’? Whose interests are being served at any given time? Existing charities of various stripes have been driving for this for years, as well as a number of prominent and compassionate psychiatrists, like the late Aine Tubridy for instance. Neither your input nor this apparently astonishing and moral turnaround in the media is down to innovation or significant structural change and we have every right to question its agenda and usefulness.

    Your advice that we promote, apparently, some kind of ‘sameness’ here really just means subsuming the unpalatable to your established and more palatable argument. As for praising the media: give me a break. Psychology has been an object of study and analysis in the West since before World War II. The media will go with what is cool and current – the media is no friend to the mentally unwell. This is not about the media. This is about the HSE and the massive structural failures, the judgment, the cruelty experienced by those of us trying to access care through it – and, secondarily, its cheerleader, the media. The HSE’s idea of mental health reform is a patronising ‘please talk’ campaign that advises you eat more bloody apples. I’ve been talking for a year now. I eat plenty of apples. I need medical care, not tea and sympathy – and apples!

    Bleating about stories being equally relevant – this is a platitude. We all know it is not true that stories are equally cherished or believed by doctors and by the body politic. Very pervasive factors, including class, age, diagnosis, and circumstance impede on this, but can be easily ignored in favour of blaming people for not ;’opening up’. After the recent and tragic suicide cluster in the midlands, RTE decided it would be a good idea to put the local priest in front of the camera to give us some vox pops about how young men really won’t ‘just talk’. How do you know? They might, like me, have visited their GP no less than twice a month for a whole year in a state of torment insisting the pills aren’t working and things are getting worse etc. etc. only to be told, like me, to ‘get out more’, find a boy/girlfriend, do exercise. Eat some apples. They may have been talking for years. There was no provision for them and no help to get well.

    Recent studies conducted by academics concluded that, where male suicide is concerned, this is a very significant relation between it and lower-class experience. That is, poverty and a lack of prospects fosters male suicide clusters and a rise in male suicide figures. This has been proven and is backed up by statistics and yet IT HAS NOT BEEN INCLUDED IN ANY STATE OR HSE PUBLIC DRIVE TO HIGHLIGHT AND TREAT MENTAL ILLNESS. Now, let me say that again: AN EMPIRICALLY PROVEN LINK BETWEEN SUICIDE AND AUSTERITY HAS NOT BEEN INCLUDED IN ANY STATE OR HSE PUBLIC DRIVE TO HIGHLIGHT AND TREAT MENTAL ILLNESS. Instead we get ‘please talk’ [aka it’s your fault], ‘eat apples’ et al [aka it’s your fault], and Bressie asking that you don’t be a big meanie and foster ‘division’ in the movement by pointing out that there is a world of difference between the affluent young media figure and the working-class mother in the waiting room, that this difference is structural, that it is being sidelined in favour of a narrative that won’t point the finger of blame at austerity politics and therefore reveal an uncomfortable truth about the way our country is governed now.

    My advise to me fellow travelers in this so-called ‘collective drive’ would be: be as bloody divisive and problematic as you damn well need to be. Mincing regard for the powers that be never sustained a revolution or brought about change. It only keeps the status quo, maybe making some cosmetic differences, sparing the HSE any need to properly look at itself and deploy funding in an ethical way. Instead, that is, of telling everyone, in effect, to buck up.

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