Friday 9 December 2016

'I missed my stop because I couldn't motivate myself to stand up and get out' - RTE journalist Olivia O'Leary reveals depression battle

Published 03/05/2016 | 20:03

Journalist Olivia O'Leary
Journalist Olivia O'Leary

POPULAR RTE journalist Olivia O'Leary has revealed her battle with depression during her 20s.

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Speaking during her column on RTE Radio One's Drivetime, she praised Fianna Fail TD Robert Troy's contribution to last week's Dail mental health debate.

"You know just when you despair of politicians, they can really surprise you. Robert Troy of Fianna Fail decided the full day Dail debate on mental health a week or so ago should mean something - so he revealed his own experience of depression and anxiety to support the argument for better funding for mental health services in this country.

"He said he suffered from anxiety and minor depression which he found crippling and all consuming... that took courage. Politicians don't like to reveal anything that might make them seem vulnerable."

She revealed her own experience during her 20s with mental health.

"It isn't that you've been through the hell and isolation of depression and anxiety that you've any idea of what it's like or what it takes to get over it. It's happened to so many of us. It happened to me in my 20s.

"I remember a full year when I didn't care if I got up in the mornings. I remember sitting on the train home and missing my stop because I couldn't motivate myself to stand up and get out.

"I didn't care where the train was going to take me and where I'd end up, and I ended up in some strange places - but mostly I ended up alone, in my room.

"I was lucky because somebody who loved me stepped in fast and got me some psychiatric help. With the right drugs and some therapy I recovered."

However she said she still today watches for the triggers which sparked her battle with depression years earlier.

"I'm weary of it, I know it could happen again. I guard against what for me were the triggers of it - working too hard, stress, heavy drinking, not enough contact with family or friends, no exercise, no fresh air, no music, no poetry, no listening to the excited bird outside your kitchen window, or singing in your choir... or whatever it is that makes you stop and be happy.

"So I try to remember the psychologist Maureen Gaffney's advice: Be quite deliberate about thinking positive thoughts, particular first thing in the morning. Negative thoughts have almost four or five times the strength of positive ones, so you have to work at not being overwhelmed by negativity.

"The problem with depression and anxiety is that when you most need help, you're least able to ask for it - and become even more isolated."

She said she was lucky that her family and friends rallied around her - but also that she was able to seek help privately, and not sit on a public waiting list.

"What's the point in just talking about it, you might ask?  Just talking about it is the point. The silence that surrounds mental health has ensured it remains the Cinderella of the health service.

"People have refused to talk about it in case they might be refused a job, in case someone might refuse to marry them. Family secrets were locked away inside the high walls of institutions in years gone by; having a mental illness was regarded as a moral flaw, not an illness at all.

"Attitudes have changed today, but because we still don't want to talk about mental illness, we can't argue for it to get the funding it deserves."

The broadcast began trending on social media in the minutes after it aired - reaching the number one trend on Twitter in Ireland.

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