Saturday 31 January 2015

Time for a national conversation about our mental health

Phil Mac Giolla Bhain says that by appearing in an ad campaign about mental health he has done his bit to get us talking

Phil Mac Giolla Bhain features in Amnesty International’s campaign against mental-health discrimination
Phil Mac Giolla Bhain features in Amnesty International’s campaign against mental-health discrimination

THERE is an iron law of journalism that you must never become the story, but sometimes iron laws need to be broken.

I'm used to seeing my by-line in print and my picture beside it, but this time it's different.

Recently I agreed to become a 'face' of an Amnesty International campaign to halt discrimination against people with mental health problems.

People like me.

When you see me in the coming weeks in a newspaper advert or on a billboard or keeping you company as you wait for a bus, don't see a 'depressive', just see me.

Sometimes I'm down. The last bad bout was about two years ago.

If you have suffered depression then you will know how crippling it is, even when everyone around you knows and understands that it isn't your choice to be depressed and it isn't your fault.

Feeling that you need to hide it, to conceal it from everyone, doubles the burden and compounds the problem.

Twenty years ago, I saw a colleague come back to work after a period off with depression. It was a very stressful environment -- a social-work office. She had bucket loads of reasons to be depressed.

When she returned she was well, but the people in the office implicitly decided that she would never be better again.

It was all very 'caring' of course, but 'Mary' (not her real name) was never again afforded full status as a colleague to be taken seriously.

The lesson was learnt. At that point I enjoyed my professional status as a social worker and valued colleague. I didn't want to lose that.

A year later, although usually full of energy and essentially optimistic in outlook, I became the exact opposite.

I went to my local GP. Ironically, he and I had worked together professionally with me wearing my psychiatric social worker hat.

When I came back to work my reputation as someone who had a valued professional opinion was intact because I was viewed as a driven workaholic.

'Burnout' or 'work stress' was better than 'depression'.

It is to my recurring shame that I stayed silent when 'Mary' was being quietly disregarded.

Sunday Independent

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