Talkin ‘Bout Mental Health – We’ve Come Far But There’s Still A Way To Go
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day... and it's about time we talked
Picture this. You’re making yourself a cup of tea in work, having the chats with a colleague.
"How are you getting on?"
"Ah sure I’m grand, and yourself?"
"Well to be honest, I’m not feeling great... I’ve been a bit down, actually."
right, eh, yeah... the weather’s taken a bit of a turn hasn’t it?"
While we’re great at the craic, we’re not so great at talking about our feelings.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day... and it's about time we got talking.
However, it does seem we are getting better at talking about mental health issues.
Following last year’s Green Ribbon campaign, 75% of people said they were more comfortable about talking about mental health problems – a number that is expected to rise this year.
Given that one in four of us will be affected by mental health at some point in our lives, this is obviously a good thing.
Starting the discussion is the first step towards breaking down the taboo of mental illness, says Sorcha O’Neill, Support and Liaison Officer with See Change, the National Stigma Reduction programme behind the Green Ribbon campaign.
It needs to be part of everyday chats. This helps people feel less intimidated and less afraid to open up. Everyone has mental health; there’s no getting away from it. We need to lift the air of secrecy and shame that go with that.
But what exactly should we or should we not be saying?
Well for starters, we don’t all need to be beacons of knowledge on the subject. “You don’t have to be an expert,” says Sorcha. “Not all of us are qualified in psychotherapy or mental health related illnesses. The only person who is an expert on your mental health is you.”
So while we don’t need to know everything about mental health issues, there’s a distinct line between not having all the answers and actively remaining ignorant.
Language is powerful. It’s important that we communicate with respect and are mindful of what we say because the words and phrases we use have the potential to make an impact.
“It’s essential that mental health is treated with the same respect as any other medical illness would be,” Sorcha says.
“Clichés were thrown around years ago when people didn’t have an understanding, like ‘enough of the drama’ or ‘cheer up. Some people unfortunately still use them so there’s still a lack of understanding there,” she says. “But I think we’re getting the message across that those clichés are not helpful.”
Commitment to getting rid of outdated stereotypes has been strengthened by well-known faces like Conor Cusack and Bressie opening up about their own struggles with mental health. Members of the public have also shared their experiences on social media and blogs which has gone far in raising public awareness.
“People find that writing is cathartic and it also helps others who are wrestling with their own problems which they may not yet have a full understanding of,” says Sorcha.
But while it might seem that Ireland has moved on from the days of "Ah poor Mary down the road, she suffers from her nerves", scratch just below the surface and the stigma is still ingrained in our culture.
Just last year, St. Patrick’s mental health services carried out a survey revealing that 67% agree that Irish people view being treated for a mental health difficulty as a sign of personal failure. The research also shows that as little as 53% agree that people with a mental health difficulty are trustworthy.
There’s no denying that public awareness campaigns and celebrities have successfully put mental health issues into focus. And the rest of us are slowly coming around to the mind-set that the mind – in all its power and fragility – matters. We just need to get there a little faster.