Saturday 3 December 2016

#MindYourself - Life lessons with Bressie: 'Mental health should be priority number one in the education system'

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 14/11/2015 | 02:30

Niall 'Bressie' Breslin: The most difficult part about the book was having to hand it over to my mum and dad. Photo: El Keegan.
Niall 'Bressie' Breslin: The most difficult part about the book was having to hand it over to my mum and dad. Photo: El Keegan.
Niall Breslin completes the first Dublin Ironman in August 2015

Niall Breslin, better known as Bressie, is a musician, television personality and mental health advocate. Born in Dublin, he was raised in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, the second youngest of three sisters and a brother. The 35-year-old has an impressive portfolio - prior to his role as mentor on The Voice of Ireland, he was a Leinster rugby player and frontman for indie rock band The Blizzards.

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A dedicated triathlete, he is an ambassador for the charity Cycle Against Suicide. Last year, he spoke out about living with anxiety and depression since he was a teenager, and launched a blog, My1000Hours, which has developed into an online hub dedicated to helping improve mental fitness, now called A Lust for Life.

In September, Niall published his first book, Me and My Mate Jeffrey, which detailed his struggle with mental illness. He lives in Dublin with his long-term girlfriend, model and food blogger Rozanna Purcell.

I am very close to my family. I think it's something people need to work on. People often take it for granted but you need to keep establishing and re-establishing connections between you and your family.

Mental health was never something I was encouraged to talk about at school. I was in a Christian Brothers' school, and we were told praying solves everything. That was what my generation grew up with.

I think there's a myth that men don't speak about their problems. If the problems are bad enough and they are struggling, men will speak about them.

Where I've noticed the most issues is in sport. If you look at some of our lead athletes, people assume they're invincible beings, but there can be problems if they go into sport without the coping strategies to deal with injury, to deal with being dropped, and all those things.

Probably my biggest regret was not being more open with my family about what I was dealing with. I'd be falling asleep some days in class, and my teachers just assumed I was a little brat, but the reality was that I couldn't sleep at night. I isolated myself from my family. Not because I didn't love them, I just didn't know how to deal with what was happening.

People need to look at behaviour in different ways. We need to stop judging it as someone being a d*** - there could be something seriously wrong there.

If I could go back and talk to my teenage self, I would say enjoy the journey, enjoy the process. We can get so caught up with the destination and when we actually get there we realise it's not that great.

Mental health should be priority number one in the education system. I can't listen to another education minister talk about investing more in maths and English. They're all irrelevant if the child is struggling mentally.

Cleaning my diet up has really helped my mental fitness. My golden rule is to avoid processed food. But eating rubbish every now and again is absolutely fine. I have an addiction to chorizo, it's so bad for you but I don't care!

I really enjoy cycling and training. It makes me feel happy. I absolutely adore music. I bought a studio and I'm really enjoying getting back into the creative process. I'm lucky that the things I do for a living, I really enjoy doing.

Reading was something that massively benefited me in tougher times. You're naturally mindful when you're reading. I'm obsessed with the writer Jon Ronson. His books are predominantly based around mental health and the mind, and they're very, very funny.

My book was very difficult for my family to read. Even though they knew all about it, that was the most difficult part about writing it - having to hand it over to my mum and dad when it was done. It definitely brought us closer together.

One of the most common reactions I get to the book is from mums and dads. They were getting frustrated and angry with their teenagers, because they just didn't fully understand what they were going through.

We have this horrible perception that a teenager's problems are less serious than an adult's problems because we've got mortgages and responsibilities. We have to stop thinking like that, because what teenagers are dealing with now is absolutely petrifying; far beyond what I ever had to deal with.

I set up my website to try to connect with teenagers on mental health. We've got to re-evaluate how we communicate with teenagers, and I think what's effective is the internet. If we use it wisely, that's the way to really help them.

We have to make mental health more accessible to people. It's about understanding that everybody is affected by it, not just the one-in-four people with a problem.

Mindfulness takes a long time. It took me about 12 months to get really into it. I wouldn't ask anyone to go out and run a marathon on two days' training. You actually have to engage with it over a period of time.

Positive psychology isn't Oprah Winfrey quotes or someone online saying, 'It's Sunday morning and I've done a 50k run while you're still hungover eating a Double-Decker.' That's not helpful. Positive psychology is based on gratitude and not judging others. My advice is to go out and train your mind, to invest in it, because you can really strengthen it into something profoundly powerful.

To get involved with Bressie's mental health campaign, see alustforlife.com

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