Today October 10th has been designated as World Mental Health Day and it for me is an apt and appropriate time to share some thoughts and pen some words on something I feel very strongly about. Let me start with a story:
A couple of weeks back I received emails from 2 brave sisters who had very recently lost their father to suicide. They were going through a range of conflicting emotions, as one does when someone close to them is lost to suicide, from anger to guilt, relief to reflection and many more in between. They wrote to me to say that some of what I had written previously had helped provide some context and understanding for their fathers death. Naturally I felt so fortunate and lucky to think I could help them in some small way.
Reflecting on their message, it made me think of the value and bravery of people telling their own story and the impact it can have for other people. Slowly but surely, Irish men and women are seeing the importance of individual stories in helping to break the stigma of mental health in Ireland. All of our stories cannot be underestimated in their importance.
Many of us will have read of Conor Cusack, Jim Breen, Bressie and Alan O Mara to name but a few and the impact their journey’s have had on the Mental Health discourse in Ireland today.
It warms my heart to see how the movement to encourage people, especially men and boys, to talk about their mental health is growing at pace. Mental health awareness talks, events and fundraisers are springing up by the day in Ireland and different strands of society are coming together to share resources and knowledge in order to create a culture where people feel OK to express how they feel inside.
One example, among the many, is a partnership launching tomorrow between the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) and Ashoka Ireland to see how intercounty GAA players can assist Ashoka with their Social Innovation programmes across young children, middle aged society and the elderly. It is incredibly exciting to think what can be achieved when you pair committed people with great ideas.
Another story that reinforces my belief that Ireland’s attitude to mental health is changing permanently for the better can be related to a single 5 minutes on September 12th this year. At the Cycle Against Suicide Ambassador Schools awards, a young lady name Caroline Leetch spoke as one of the School Ambassadors. I was blown away by her. The clarity with which she spoke, her understanding of what Cycle Against Suicide means and why it exists and the maturity of her words on a sensitive topic highlighted to me how incredible our young Irish people are when we give them a cause to care about and a structure to flourish within. Cycle Against Suicide will continue to grow and save people’s lives because of girls and boys like Caroline all over Ireland spreading the importance of talking and encouraging help-seeking behavior.
Whilst today is World Mental Health Day and a great way to raise awareness, it is vital to remember that mental health struggles are not confined to particular days or times of the day. People can be struggling internally at any time, particularly when the external facade appears strong. So it’s vitally important that we continue to talk when things are not well, that we are available to listen to others who are fighting a battle and that we too seek help if we haven’t the answers for our friends. None of us have all the answers but so long as we have the desire and commitment to help each other, answers can always be found.
All I would say is to reflect on the story of your own life, the good bits and the rest, because yours can be the story that helps someone see a chink of light. And what greater contribution can any of us make in our lives than to help another flourish.
Spread your story, listen to people, encourage them and talk when all is not well.
Beir bua agus beannacht,