Monday 22 January 2018

'Mental health interventions by stars like Bressie and Olivia O'Leary leave me feeling like a failure' - mother-of-three

'I vomited in the college toilets and washed it back down with vodka… To me that’s what mental health looks like'

Niall Breslin and (inset) Olivia O'Leary have both opened up about their mental health
Niall Breslin and (inset) Olivia O'Leary have both opened up about their mental health
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

A mother-of-three who has been battling mental health issues for decades has described how mental health campaigns fronted by successful people can leave her feeling like a failure.

Niamh, who writes a blog My Indoor Voice, said in her experience, mental health issues can’t be “pigeon-holed” into fixed terms like depression.

And wellness campaigns by good looking and successful people can give the impression that some mental illnesses can be "fixed".

“I wouldn’t write [the campaigns] off entirely because I think that wouldn’t be fair.

“I cried at what [Bressie] said [when he spoke about his depression]... and I think he helped people like me who didn’t think they had a voice… it helped to take away the shame.”

But she said hearing from people who have achieved success, even while they continue to battle through a mental illness, can be isolating.

“For someone like me who’s sitting at home thinking ‘I’ll never be Bressie, there’s Bressie he’s successful, there’s Olivia O’Leary, she’s successful’… I've always felt I’ve failed in life because of it.

“You can feel so much worse when you see those people and you think 'well feck, none of that works for me, I’m still here, I’m still depressed'.”

She added: “It’s too easy for Government departments and HSE departments to just say ‘oh look, there’s a website that Bressie has created, just go to that’.”

Niamh, who has battled depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder, told RTE’s Ryan Tubridy what depression looks like for her.

“I have suffered since I was about 11, and it’s taken various forms. Depression is the umbrella term that everyone uses but it was so much more than that. I could be depressed sometimes, other times I could have severe anxiety. Anxiety really is the blight of my life.

“I developed an eating disorder and that’s chronic.

“[In college] I was depressed and anxious and it spiralled into four years of misery. I couldn’t speak to people.

"[One day] I had to have a meeting with my thesis supervisor, and he was kind of very authoritarian… I dreaded him. Why I ever had him as a supervisor is beyond me.

“I went to the ladies toilet before I went to meet him, I had a nagen of vodka in my bag. I was vomiting. I was washing back down the vomit with the vodka… To me that’s what mental health actually looks like.

“We see good looking, successful people who say ‘I’ve done this, I’ve done that [to get better]’. That’s fine, but that’s not really what it looks like.

“It’s the stupid girl in the toilets in college puking and washing it back down with vodka because she’s too afraid."

Niamh said the problem with some mental health awareness campaigns is that they are presenting the idea that some mental illnesses can be “fixed”.

“I always felt that I wasn’t worth the good job, I wasn’t worth going to the college that I wanted to go to."

“Part of the conversation that people are having is maybe they are giving the impression that you can be fixed. Do this, go to therapy, go to cognitive behavioural therapy, the yoga.”

But she said: “It’s a lifelong thing… my doctor says it’s like having diabetes [and managing it].

“There was a time in my life when I couldn’t walk down the road because I was afraid of the leaves on the road.

“I’m fine with leaves now,” she added.

“I had another time in my life when I thought the house was going to fall down.”

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