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Saturday 22 October 2016

Dr Ciara Kelly: Understand mental health and walk in their shoes

Ciara Kelly

Published 17/10/2016 | 02:30

People have real struggles with mental health on a daily basis
People have real struggles with mental health on a daily basis

It was World Mental Health Day last week. Which comes around once a year - perhaps unsurprisingly. And it generates a certain amount of conversation around mental health and indeed mental wellness as well as mental illness. St Patrick's Hospital in Dublin ran their Walk In My Shoes radio station this week to coincide with it. A pop-up radio station, that they broadcast every year that actually plays great tunes and has lots of fun and entertaining guests on, but also focuses on mental health issues like suicide, depression and anxiety. They get it right. There's nothing depressing about Walk In My Shoes - it's quite uplifting. But it highlights the real struggles that people have on a daily basis, sometimes just to get out of bed.

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I was on it as a guest and we had a good old chat about everything from what I was doing with my career and what tunes I like to listen to, to why I think it's important to mind your mental health and what you might be able to do to protect it. It was a cheery kind of an interview with the lovely Pat O'Mahony.

Ironically, Tuesday, when I did the interview, was a bad day for me. I was feeling the strain myself. Battling with my own anxieties. Finding it hard to hold everything together. My head was going down bad roads that I was struggling to resist.

But the truth is, you would never have known it to hear the interview. In the interview I was breezy, cheerful, for all the world in absolutely flying form. And it struck me that one of the obstacles we have to overcome in order to protect out mental health, is social conformity. Our determined attempts to appear well and indeed normal - whatever that is - to the rest of the world. Our hard-wired need to hide the fact that we're upset or down from other people.

We often talk about the difficulties in overcoming the stigma surrounding mental health, but truth be told a lot of the stigma is lessening, as ordinary person after ordinary person admits to having issues - which helps normalise the idea of mental health struggles.

But for me, and indeed I think a lot of people, one of the real battle-grounds mentally is the difficulty of hiding how we feel. Some people say the terrible strain of hiding stuff is as bad or worse than the actual mental strain caused by depression or anxiety or whatever. And why do we do it? I think a lot of it is social conformity. A lot of it is down to wanting to fit in. To be seen a certain way or perhaps just not to be seen as we really are. Vulnerable. Needy. Scared. Human.

I'm not sure exactly what would have happened last Tuesday if I had told Pat I was having a shit day. What would have happened, if I had said "I feel today like I want to go home - even when I am at home and that is a scary way to feel." What he would have said or done, if I'd gone off script in that space and said I don't have any answers when it comes to mental health - I can barely manage my own. I suspect knowing Pat, he'd have probably been fine with it. But I didn't say it. I smiled and chatted like everything was great. I'm struggling to say it even here. But I'm forcing myself. Because it's ok to not be ok. We've all been there. We'll be there again. Be kind to yourself, people - you're not the only one.


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