You more than a statistic

Now more than ever, there is a need for open and honest discussion about mental health issues in our country, writes John Barker.


Depression and suicide have long been smothered under the umbrella of taboos. As society opens up to issues surrounding mental health, we can look to gain a greater understanding of what it is that puts our mental health in jeopardy, what it means to celebrate individuality and how we can work towards combating the stigma surrounding such topics.

“Talk it out, let it out, sort it out”. This was the very simple yet effective slogan of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) for Mental Health Awareness week. The slogan encapsulates the way forward in Ireland’s plight for the promotion to nurture the wellbeing of its people’s mental health. Although often a difficult task, the simple act of speech may prevent fatal casualties which befall those of unsettled minds. In October 2010, the Irish Times reported that up to 60,000 people had self-harmed in Ireland in the year of 2009. In the case of almost 500, suicide was the result of such actions.

It has been reported by the World Health Organisation that one in four people will be affected by mental health issues in their lifetime. Often clouded by the prominence of depression in the field of mental disorders, others become overlooked in spite of the worst case scenario for each of them being suicide. In all cases, suicide is seen as a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, to name but a few, are all illnesses which can be medically treated and controlled. As the flagship disorder in mental health, we must be aware of depression in society. Depression amongst teens is most commonly a result of being bullied or harassed.

Discrimination, to date, remains the leading cause of depression and suicide amongst young people in Ireland. Race, sexuality, gender and beliefs are amongst the many grounds upon which discrimination stems. It is an unfortunate reality and the unavoidable truth that to be a part of a minority is to put oneself at risk of being subjected to verbal and physical abuse. A study by the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that “90% of LGBT students were harassed in the past year.” Similarly a survey carried out by Amnesty International found that “78% of the sample had experienced racism.”

In the suicide note of Steven, a 16 year old gay teen, he reported incidents where he received hate mail, was beaten up, spat on, betrayed by his best friend and called horrible names. “I will be so happy in heaven. I can just be normal like everyone else. I will not be the faggot, the queer, the fag boy, the pussy.” Upon reaching the end of his lengthy, heart-breaking letter, Steven declares “I am happy now”.

As uses this and other such letters to share the stories of survivors, it allows insight into the mindset of those whose thoughts have become shrouded by self-pity and helplessness. As living people this letter must cry out to each and every one of us and beg of you an answer to how, in untimely death, someone can be happy.

“Baby, I was born this way” are the lyrics dominating the music charts as Lady Gaga recently released her latest in trendsetting music. Justification for what it is that makes up each of us becomes unnecessary as, in keeping with her image, she implores that we cannot help who we are and so we must embrace our own beauty. Following in the footsteps of Christina Aguilera’s instant classic ‘Beautiful’, Gaga pushes listeners’ one step closer to an ideal world. A world without discrimination, judgement, hurt and torment.

Realising who you are, is not something likely to come about in your lifetime. Fears, obsessions, desires; they are all things which lie within us all, some surfacing and others not. It can be hard to say what it is you really want. Asking yourself what your biggest fear is would mean acknowledging it and making it present in your thoughts.

Nobody wants to do that. Lock it away and throw away the key, right? It may be the easier option to walk through life without questioning such things and indeed things would all be much less complicated if we could do this. Embracing the beauty of individuality is a topic becoming more and more prevalent in society.

It is necessary in order to combat the problem of mental illnesses. In the age of celebrity, teens no longer aspire to be like the heroic figures rooted in history, rather to be like the underweight model with breast enhancements or the party-loving guy who gets all the girls. In more recent times, an acceptance of individuality has been encouraged by the emergence of such celebrities as Lady Gaga, Adam Lambert and Florence Welsh.

Each of them promotes the message that it is ok to be an individual. Such messages offer a welcome break from other celebrity messages heard in everyday life. Messages which suggest conforming to trends, to what magazines and television tell their audience.

A survey conducted by presented shocking results regarding one particular trend; mental illness. The survey concluded that “34% of teens admitted to lying about having a mental illness like eating disorder, depression, addiction and self-harm simply to seek adults’ attention, look cool and emulate celebrities.”

With such shocking results there has been a great awakening within people as to how ones actions can so deeply affect others. It is this awareness which needs to be fostered by the nation. Projects such as the Trevor Project, PostSecret and It Gets Better have begun to allow people to speak out, be they messages of support or confessions.

By involving some of the most influential figures in the world the message is made all the more powerful. Barack Obama tells not only the USA but the world, in conjunction with the It Gets Better project, that “your differences are a source of pride and a source of strength” and that “we’ve got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage; that it’s just some inevitable part of growing up. It’s not.”

Similarly the staff of Pixar offers their message of hope to viewers as many battle with the decision of “would I be true to myself or would I live a life of lies?” In each contribution to all projects, whether it is a celebrity or an everyday hero from the streets the message they bear is clear; define yourself as we are all stars.

It is the history of mental illness being a taboo subject which has inspired this progression into a trend. It must be met head on. “Ten people a week are taking their own lives” stated John Dolan in last Saturdays Evening Echo. Last month saw the burial of 11-year-old Ciara Doherty and 13-year-old Martin Rooney who both took their lives tragically.

This begs the question of when is it going to be ok to begin speaking openly about mental health in Ireland. As the suicide rate reaches almost double that of deaths on the road, surely these statistics call for government action. With few politicians referring to mental health within their policies, there is little hope. Similar to the creation of the new Road Safety Authority so should similar action to be taken to reduce suicide and improve mental health. Until a nationwide solution is found, we must begin to combat the issue ourselves.

In deciding to take such steps, we must first attend to the welfare of our own mental state. Realising goals, acknowledging fears and putting ourselves in positive situations allow us to do this. Following such assessment we must then simply open our awareness to those around us. Everyone is entitled to a bad day but when the Monday blues become the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday blues then we must act for the good of the sufferer.

Take note of your family and friends moods. Ask them how they’re feeling. Encourage young people to be active and pursue their dreams.Talk and listen. Handle any situation with the greatest care as you could, in your hands, be holding someone’s life.Should the problem progress then there are professional services available nationwide. Call the Samaritans on 1850 609090 or Niteline, a confidential student led programme on 1800 323242. It can be conquered. Do something today. Be the master of your own mind.


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