Mental health has many faces

The focus on removing the stigma around mental health in Ireland has never been stronger. The last few years have seen the development of youth mental health organisations such as Headstrong and ReachOut.com, there are more campaigns such as the HSE initiative #LittleThings which promote ways to look after our mental health and that of others. Even celebrities and athletes are coming forward and sharing their own mental health struggles to encourage people to speak up and seek the help they need.

But is the increased media exposure of mental challenges translating into increased support services? Is real change of attitude occurring and is it enough?

John Paul Lyne of the North Dublin Mental Health services said in a recent report in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine that “We are facing an epidemic of mental disorder in the coming decades, unless we rapidly refocus our attention on young people”.

Research by the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland revealed that 75 per cent of all mental disorders begin before the age of 25. There are many causes of stress to teenagers and young adults which can lead to anxiety or depression. The transition from school to college, pressure to achieve a certain body image and feelings of loneliness and isolation are but a few possible contributory factors. It’s important to recognise these. It’s also important to recognise that often mental health problems can’t be explained by any particular cause. Part of mental health awareness is learning to understand that you don’t have to go through a traumatic event to suffer from depression and whatever the cause or non-cause, the suffering is just as real.

In a speech at a Lovin’ Dublin event, musician Niall Breslin (Bressie) spoke out about his own struggles with chronic depression. He said that even though he was excelling in many areas of his life, he was overcome with anxiety and feelings of despair. Regardless of how successful he became he still couldn’t overcome his mental illnesses.

There is often an image conjured when we think of someone dealing with depression. It is rarely an image of an outwardly happy and successful person but rather a person who is visibly struggling. Perspectives need to be changed to allow a more varied representation of mental health challenges.

A recent campaign in the UK called for the media to stop using stigmatising stock images of a person in isolation, head in hands, to accompany articles about mental health. The initiative encouraged people to post alternative pictures on Twitter to more accurately depict the face of mental illness. The #goodbyeheadclutcher campaign has seen thousands of people post pictures of themselves smiling with friends and loved ones as well as photos mocking the stereotype- “why are our heads so heavy?”

The message is that mental illness has many faces and not all of them are sad.

By Aoife Geary

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