Need to deconstruct the walls of stigma around mental health

When we read the words “mental health” many different images manifest in our minds. For many of us who have not experienced mental health issues, we envision perhaps a person sitting in on a psychotherapist’s couch clutching a tissue or a person in a straightjacket in a padded cell. These images give life to a stigma of us and them. Mental health illness is a reality for thousands of people in Ireland and we need to dismantle the stigma attached to them.

A short time after leaving school I felt a wave of depression slowly creep over me. I used coming out as gay when I was eighteen as a shield to what was really a much darker internal battle. I had just accepted my sexuality and I thought I could control and deal with every aspect of my emerging identity.

I catapulted myself into the new unfamiliar gay world of kissing gay men, drinking gay drinks, going to gay clubs, eating gay food and breathing gay air. I had repressed my identity for so long, I saw this as the prime opportunity to cement my sexuality and carve myself as a new person. Unrequited loves, failed examinations and excessive partying all merged together to bring about my self-destruction.

I sought help from my parents to get professional support which helped to some degree, but the same demons kept rearing their head. I hated every fragment of my life and myself. I had to pull the plug on university and build myself back up from scratch. I took myself off the medication that had stabilised me. I worked, I saved and I returned to university. I did this by listening finally to what I was being told constantly, but most importantly I did this by listening to myself.

My battle with depression wasn’t remarkable it was just another part of who I was. I was merely a victim of an illness that plagues so many young people, and in particular LGBT young people. This is something that many will face entering adulthood and are facing right now. We can’t expect mental illness to take on predictable shapes as it is something that varies massively on a spectrum.

There will always be people who suffer in silence, who, on the surface, seem to assimilate into the norm. They need understanding and adequate levels of help to support them through this struggle. We must be vigilant in this, and ensure that we help our families and friends, and through this we can gradually deconstruct the walls of stigma around mental health.

Declan Faulkner is the current Chairperson of the DCU Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans & Allies Society.

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