Saturday 18 November 2017

'I got a couple of packets of painkillers and took them all'

A new survey reveals that many of us don't want to discuss our mental health. But as part of the Green Ribbon campaign, Graham Clifford meets three people who understand why it's good to talk

Ciara McCullough talks about her mental health
Ciara McCullough talks about her mental health
Not alone: James Keating found talking to GP helped
Turning point: Vinny Foran

Graham Clifford

We Irish are famous for our 'gift of the gab' – but often our ability to communicate with others about how we really feel can be limited.

While we might talk a lot, many of us find it impossible to open up about our feelings – especially if we are depressed and confused.

Tomorrow, See Change – the National Stigma Reduction Partnership – will hold Time to Talk Day and hope to encourage people to speak with someone they trust.

It's part of a month-long campaign to highlight mental-health awareness. Research carried out by See Change (who are behind the Green Ribbon Project) – found that 56pc of Irish people wouldn't want others to know about their mental-health problems.

The reluctance to open up is particularly prevalent amongst young men, with 72pc admitting they would keep mental health issues to themselves; 28pc would delay seeking treatment for fear of someone discovering their condition; 41pc would hide a mental health condition from friends; and 24pc from their family.

The figures suggest an increase in the stigma associated with mental health in Ireland when compared with previous findings.

For those who found it possible to open up, to share and to talk about their problems the benefits have been life-changing – these are their stories:

Ciara McCullough (23), Newport, Tipperary

"When I was younger, I could never really say if I was happy or sad – I think I was always searching for contentment. I felt something was missing and got into two relationships thinking they would somehow fulfil me.

"The first relationship began when I was 16 and lasted for four years.

"I isolated myself and stopped going out with my friends. I thought I'll make my then boyfriend happy and that would then make me happy. I realise now that the insecurities I felt were more to do with how I thought about myself than anything else.

"One night I sat in my car and thought to myself this is it. It wasn't that I wanted to end my life or not be here anymore but I just wanted the pain I was feeling to stop. I was numb.

"I picked up a few packets of paracetamol ... took them all. I didn't take enough for me to be hospitalised. I was just violently sick for a few days. My family didn't know about what I'd done, so I put it behind me and continued on as normal.

"I found myself in another relationship eight months after the first one ended and had the same issues.

"I didn't really talk to my friends or family about how I felt. In school, I'd always come across as being very happy and be the first to tell a joke. But inside I felt very different. It was easy to create a façade.

"My father took his own life when I was just one, so I knew how difficult it would be for my mother to discover how I was feeling and what I was going through.

"Last October, I drove up to a forestry nearby and turned off my phone. Again, I had packets of paracemtamol with me – I didn't feel I could cope with these feelings I had.

"Someone found me before it was too late. I ended up on a drip in hospital in Limerick for two days and was referred to a psychiatrist. Lying in that hospital bed, feeling completely empty, with drips hanging off me, I started to ask 'is this what I've done to myself?'

"It was at that point I decided I'm not doing this again, this is where I'm going to sink or swim.

"For the first time in my life I was 100pc honest and vulnerable – opening up to the psychiatrist was the best thing I ever did. I was referred to a counsellor and had eight one-hour sessions.

"Now I don't stress over things to the same degree and am enjoying life again.

"I'm in a new relationship, teaching photography and trying to help spread mental health awareness in my local area. I've organised a 5k run in Newport for May 25 with all proceeds going to Pieta House." (search under 'Newport Run')


James Keating (28) Dublin

"I was halfway through a three-year PhD course at UCD and felt a huge weight on my shoulders. As the weeks went on and my course work increased I found my stress levels sky-rocketing.

"I couldn't sleep and became exhausted making any efforts to stay up with course work impossible – I was floundering. The more I worried, the more difficult it got.

"Eventually, it became too much to deal with. I knew I had to sort things out or my mental state would continue to deteriorate.

"I dropped out of the course and went to my GP, where I talked through my problems. The GP listened and said I suffered from high levels of anxiety. Having a name for what I was going through made it easier for me to cope with it. It normalised it in a way and I felt I wasn't the only person in the world feeling as I did inside.

"I took on an MA in Journalism at Griffith College and it went brilliantly.

"My girlfriend and family have been very supportive – but the key was that I opened up and spoke honestly about my problems.

"My story is tame, but even small problems need to be dealt with because they can become big ones fast and your problem is still a problem even if others have worse.

"The 'it'll be grand' attitude can work to a point – but ignoring how you feel isn't healthy."

Vinny Foran (47), Clonakilty, Co Cork

"It was when I was in my late 30s that my world came crashing down around me.

"I was living in Dublin, had a young family and a business – importing electrical goods – and kept taking on new tasks, such as becoming captain of my local golf club, looking for self-validation. Things began to spiral out of control. Eventually it became too much.

"Looking back I'd always had low periods growing up but bounced back.

"My wife and I separated and I know my depression put a huge strain on the marriage. We would have ended the marriage anyway but I was a difficult man to live with.

"I'd also estranged myself from my family. I felt worthless. I did some research and self-diagnosed my depression.

"In 2007, having barely slept for about eight months due to worry and stress, I broke down.

"One evening I sat at home with a bottle of whiskey and paracetamol and couldn't see a way out. I just sat there and cried.

"The next morning my mother, Marie, and I went to my GP and I just cried and cried. Eventually I looked at him and said 'I think I need help'. The doctor answered 'You needed to say that' and from there the process to build myself back up began – but it wasn't easy. He told me 'this is the worst you'll ever be, it's all uphill from here.'

"In those first few years of recuperation, I was heavily medicated and that was just masking my problems – I slept for months on end, my body and mind were exhausted.

"I moved to Clonakilty three years ago and got a job in a hotel, but after a year got sick again. That, in many ways, was a turning point for me. I realised I needed to understand my mental health and not just rely on medication.

"Slowly but surely, I managed to take back control of my own life. I took courses on mental health, talked with others about how I felt and I learned to challenge my thoughts and live in the now rather than dwelling too much on the past and worrying about the future.

How to help a family member talk about how they are feeling

* Communication: Create opportunities where you can sit down in a relaxed setting to talk with no other distractions.

* Listen: Fight the temptation to advise and instead listen to what your loved one is saying.

* Support: Knowing that someone cares can have a huge beneficial impact on someone's mental health. Offer to attend counselling sessions or GP visits with them – they may not want you to but knowing the offer of support is there can be extremely helpful.

* Exercise: Encourage exercise – be that going for a walk or a swim together or supporting team pursuits.

* Laughter: Living with someone who is trying to overcome a mental health problem is never easy but focusing on the things which can bring joy into the home can help both the person affected and the wider family in general.


Irish Independent

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