Mental health isn’t a new topic. For the past few years and months, it’s been centre-stage on the media agenda, the political arena and for many, their personal lives.
And while conversations around the topic continue to flourish thanks to the tireless work of activists and events like Darkness into Light and Cycle Against Suicide, action to improve facilities is lagging behind.
In our recent A Slice of Ireland survey, we discovered an alarming number of readers were diagnosed with a mental illness. 1 in 5 to be exact.
So what are we going to do about it?
Last night our brother site, JOE.ie hosted a frank conversation about the state of the mental health epidemic in Ireland.
There, Bressie spoke openly about the steps we need to take, the toxicity of our media and importantly, why clashing with the big wigs in the Dáil is not a good idea.
This is what he said.
I haven’t written much down here. I don’t tend to write speeches down. I don’t do slides, I don’t do statistics. I try to just think about what’s motivating me, what’s pissing me off on any given day.
I’m not here to speak about my own journey. I’m here to speak at a more macro level – what I’m seeing from what I do in terms of mental health activism.
I think what’s happening in Ireland is incredibly exciting but I also feel like we’re moving past the awareness phase, which is really good. We’ve moved past it. I think everybody’s quite aware.
Some people still hold stigma, some people still hold on to negative connotations when it comes to mental health, but everybody’s aware.
What I believe we’re heading into is the, “what the fuck are we going to do about it?” phase. That’s the phase where most work has to be done. Although these issues are very complex, the solutions are not, and that’s what’s so infuriating; watching a completely and utterly rudderless government on this particular issue.
It’s infuriating because there’s research there, there’s proof, there are facts. There’s blatant evidence of things that need to be done and need to be done now. Unfortunately, one of the major strangleholds over this country, and it’s been this way for a long time, is bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy is slowing this down, and some of the horseshit I’ve listened to in the last couple of months would make Donald Trump look like a complete genius. That’s what we’re dealing with.
It’s not like the water, or the Luas drivers, or the Gardaí, it’s much more important
Everybody’s in this room because they care about mental health in Ireland. Mental health is moving where it needs to move, in the public perception, in a very real way. When I say public perception I mean the people on the street to the government to the media.
It’s now in the spotlight and that’s a good thing, but we have to look out for the dangers here. The dangers are starting to creep in already.
We’re noticing divides. We’re noticing people saying, “he’s wrong” or “she’s wrong” or “that’s not right.” I get that, we all understand that, but what that is doing is creating divide. What we have to strive for is complete cohesion. It’s never completely possible but we have to strive for it.
If we don’t remain collective and cohesive in what we’re trying to achieve we become individuals and our voices become weaker. We have to get that into our heads.
That doesn’t mean that healthy debate isn’t promoted. Debate is brilliant because not one person in this country – not one psychiatrist, not one psychologist, not one doctor, not any activist – has the solutions. But we have to try and get there.
This is not a ‘perfect solution’ situation. If we don’t work together on this, and if we start breaking this early, in the ‘what the fuck are we going to do about it?’ phase, we’re in trouble. Because that’s what a lot of people want to happen.
If we become weaker, if our voices becomes weaker, if we’re not ‘those annoying little feckers who march on the Dáil,’ if we don’t become those people who lobby the government… because we’re broken and not together (we’re in trouble).
This isn’t water.
This is humanity at a deep, core level and this is what really will really define Ireland as a society and as a people.
How collective can we stay here?
Yes, we’ll fight. Yes, some people will want certain things and other people will believe other things. That’s OK as well. What’s not OK is not to understand that we’re all looking for the same thing.
We’re looking to destroy and erode the stigma and we’re looking for a strategy that can promote early intervention.
We’re also looking for a strategy for people who are already within the services, that they’re not treated like absolute animals. We need to get real.
“We can’t lock horns with our government on this”
The people within are services are brilliant. When I say ‘our mental health services are not fit for purpose’ I get told I’m attacking the people that work in them. I do nothing but promote, I’m trying to help those people and to make sure that they’re resourced adequately.
I’ve a friend, a very close friend, who’s a clinical psychologist and incredibly gifted at what she does. She’s left Ireland. She’s left to work for less money somewhere else. So why did she leave?
She says, “I did not train for eight years to tell a 14-year-old teenage girl who’s either suicidal or in the depths of distress that I can’t see her for 12 months.
“And if I can see her in 12 months she has to drive 100 miles to see me. I’m not willing to do that. It’s not humane. It defies our human rights at the most basic level.”
This is what’s happening.
When I talk about that collectiveness or cohesiveness we also have to look at this way, and this mightn’t go down well: We can’t lock horns with our government on this.
We can’t. It’s not the way forward. It doesn’t work, even though up to this point they’ve been draconian with their measure when it comes to mental health. We know that.
Right now, our options are that we continue on that path of hostility or we say to them, “This is fucked, guys. If ye can admit that, we can move forward.” To do that, the government and our politicians have to parks their egos and understand that they don’t understand this like other people; like Pieta House, like Console, like Aware. These are people who truly understand because they’ve been on the ground long before people like me were speaking about this. Long before it.
These awareness groups and charity groups were holding up society and the fact is our government needs to use them now.
They need to use their knowledge, their research, their understanding.
Over to you, Simon Harris
We have a new health minister in Simon Harris. We don’t know what he’s up to, nobody knows, he could end up being the best health minister we’ve ever had. We don’t know.
I believe in relationship building. I don’t believe fistfighting in the first week of office is a great call. I like to assume that this guy wants to try and do something. I also like to assume that this guy has the power and it isn’t being defined by civil servants.
This has to be the core priority of the new government. Our mental health, in this country, is on the ground. We’re struggling, we really, really are.
A man said to me the other day (and he didn’t mean it in an ignorant way), “Jesus everyone’s depressed now. Everyone’s anxious. Everyone has problems,” and I went, “No no, everyone’s just talking about it now.”
That’s the difference.
We don’t need horseshit like that, we’ve lived in that generation and those decades for too long.
The question I’m asking tonight is this, “How do we stay as collective and cohesive and as strong as we can?” Because it’s working.
We saw the reaction to a picture posted from the Dáil from mental health statements a couple of weeks ago. We saw four or five people in there. I understand that the Dáil works in a complex way and there were more than four people – there were actually 40, which is still terrible – but that was the picture.
I was then told it was “a misrepresentation” and “that’s not how the Dáil works.”
Well, first of all, the Dáil doesn’t work very well. You’ve got to reform that shit. Fast.
Who was the gobshite who called a mental health statement session in the middle of a negotiation to form a new government, without expecting people to get really pissed off?
Who was that gobshite that made that call? Because that person should probably get another job.
That’s what you’ve got to start thinking about. The reaction to that particular photograph wasn’t because people were pissed because there were only a few people in the Dáil talking about the welfare of our state. If it was a wages debate we all know it’d be packed.
But that’s not the reason people were pissed off. It was because that was symbolic representation of how our government has treated mental health for decades.
That was a reaction in the name of the 600 or 700 people who die by suicide every year; that was a reaction to our Minister for Health withdrawing a ringfenced budget of €12m, when already our mental health budget is 6% of the health budget overall.
That 6% is embarrassing considering the UK spend 14% and the World Health Organisation say at a minimum it should be 14%.
The vast majority of that 6% goes on drugs.
The government want you to get angry with the wrong people
I am not here to speak about the medical model, it’s absolutely required in many cases, but my issue is with our over-reliance on the medical model when we should be looking at the preventative model.
Why aren’t we all looking at bringing this into our education system? Instead of telling the teachers how it’s going to be, ask them how it has to be. Empower them, because they’re the most important people in our society. Yet, at times, when teachers say something people in the private sector jump on them. They attack them with, “You’ve got this!” and “You’ve got that!”
(The government) want you to do that. They want you to be angry with the wrong people.
The teachers aren’t the people who caused the recession. The teachers aren’t the people who brought down the banks. But we react against the people we shouldn’t.
The Gardaí, the Luas drivers, we’re so angry with everyone else and they love that because it deflects from them.
Stop getting angry with the wrong people. They didn’t cause the shitstorm we, hopefully, are starting to get through.
I keep coming back to cohesiveness. Mental health activism isn’t about individuals. If it’s that, it’s over. I just want to see what’ll come of the next couple of months, in this, ‘what the fuck are going to do about it?’ phase.
I know what I want to try and do – my teeth are in this now. I love this. I don’t love it because of my own relationship with my own mental health. I’ve a passion for it not because I’ve dealt with these issues, but because I’m a human. I’ve seen it, and I respond and I see these emails I get.
A woman recently walked into A&E in Galway University Hospital. She was suicidal, and self harming, and she was told in front of two witnesses to go home and take an overdose, and then “we can admit you into a psychiatric unit.”
So she did. And luckily she survived.
Can everyone in the room understand how truly unacceptable that is? At the most basic human level, to do that to another human being. This is happening in Ireland.
You’re going to hear Cat (O Broin) share an incredibly profound story that just knocked me over when I first heard it, about her brother Caoilte.
I’m not going to tell that story, it’s Cat’s to tell, but when Cat told that story on JOE.ie you realised, “Jesus, she’s not alone.” There are hundreds of families going through this. It just has to stop.
Celebrity Big Brother and a toxic culture
Culture has a really subtle impact on society in terms of mental health. How our culture is packaged can have a real impact on how we deal with mental health.
Celebrity Big Brother. For research purposes, you should all watch that, because that’s exactly how human beings shouldn’t be. Watch that show, act the complete opposite and you’ll be grand.
It’s become evident that the TV producers, or whoever makes that show, are actively seeking vulnerable people. People who are in mental distress. You can give me the argument that, “they’re well paid for it,” but that’s not an argument and I’m not accepting it.
They go into the house with 13 narcissists, for three or four weeks, and then they pray for them to break down. And when they do have a breakdown every fecker in the world watches. They go, “amazing! Our ratings are through the roof! She’s done it. She’s broken down.” Personally, I find it almost consumingly sick to watch another human being in that much pain.
The reason I think this is important when it comes to culture is that not only do we stigmatise mental health, we use it for entertainment. They use it for entertainment, that’s just disgusting.
We all have power to try and change it. Stop watching that stuff. Stop promoting that stuff, it’s toxic. It’s not good for the head and it’s not good for the collective society.
“Who the fuck do we talk to?”
I want to finish off by asking you to amplify everything we do, and that’s the only way this becomes a proper wellness revolution. The only way to do it is to magnify it constantly.
When we were the richest, greediest shower of bastards during the Celtic Tiger years, we still spent nothing on our health system. Even though we spent money, we had no strategy. There was ‘A Vision For Change,’ which was good, but none of it was implemented in real terms.
Community access to talk therapy, preventative models, didn’t happen.
I can’t speak in schools anymore and it’s not because I don’t want to. It’s because there’s no counsellor and because there’s no child and adolescent mental health services in the area. So you go in, and you rip their Band-Aids off, and you go, “best of luck, lads. It’s good to talk.”
“Yeah? Who the fuck do we talk to?”
And the parents go, “Who do we talk to?”
And the response is, “Oh this guy’s really good but you have to wait 12 months to see him.”
This has to change, guys. Simple as that. It just has to, and fast.
We are now, once again, in the “What the fuck are we going to do about it?” phase and this is what we’re going to do. It’s an amazing quote that I’m going to finish with, from JFK, and when I first heard from my friend Dr. Paul Dalton it was like a slap in the face. I couldn’t have summed it up better.
“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”