Monday 22 January 2018

#My1000Hours: Seeking out support for those with mental health issues

The opening up of discourse around mental health issues has prompted more people to reach out for help, says Niall Breslin, but a lot of the time proper support is not available.

Niall Breslin
Niall Breslin

Niall Breslin

This week, I was sent an RTE Radio 1 Documentary On One called My Dad's Depression. I downloaded it to my phone and listened to it as I walked into town. I sometimes get very anxious when I hear other people describe their journeys with mental health issues.

They may describe an acute episode of depression or a panic attack and I would immediately find myself reliving a similar experience - my heart rate increases, perspiration drips from my pores and I find myself fighting for a deep enough breathe to keep panic away.

This is just a momentary reaction and I gradually realise that this person's story, although surrounded in different circumstance, is completely relatable to my own journey. From the guilt they feel when they see hurt loved ones and the crippling darkness of acute depression, to the irrational madness that sometimes drowns your thoughts. I find myself finding solace and comfort in these stories. With each story, I make the realisation that what I deal with is actually pretty normal. Hard as hell sometimes, but normal.

The documentary began with an emotional moment where a woman was playing the piano and declaring how content she felt as she tickled the ivories. She said she only plays the piano when things are good in life, and she feels happy, but then she began to cry and uttered how she doesn't really get to play the piano much nowadays.

Her children told sincere stories about growing up watching their dad deal with his painful crippling darkness. I was almost hypnotised with the muted, yet clear and emotionally honest descriptions of what it can be like for the loved ones of those with mental health issues.

Not being able to ease the pain of a person you love can be a deeply distressing experience. This family spoke of the mood swings and aggression the father would go through as they helplessly tried to figure out ways to make him feel better.

The daughters spoke of the anger they sometimes felt and the eldest son spoke of how he would be over-polite to try to relieve the tension in the house. The father spoke of his past and how he used to have to carry his alcoholic father home through the streets, trying to pretend he was invisible as he was swallowed by shame.

At this stage, I ended up walking well past my destination as I was so embroiled by this families journey. I could completely connect to some of the experiences the father spoke about, but it also highlighted other important aspects of the issues facing those living with mental health issues.

What supports are out there for the families? We have some incredible charities in Ireland that not only support those dealing with mental health concerns, but also their families. But surely it's not just the job of the charities to provide this care? Something on a much more profound scale must be implemented to help the entire family structure through tough times like that in the documentary.

Coping strategies must be taught; counselling support and education on mental health must be implemented. When people have a greater awareness of what it is their loved one is going through, they will gain a better understanding and perhaps not only offer support more effectively, but also protect themselves emotionally.

In Irish society, the conversation around mental health is becoming more normalised and prevalent. More importantly, eople are seeking help. This is a positive movement, but it has also highlighted some cracks: some people can't access to the services they need. This is deeply concerning as some people with mental health concerns need immediate, effective treatment.

It's important at a government level that we develop a long-term strategy to provide a mental health service that offers the full spectrum of immediate care and after care for anyone seeking help - a mental health service that provides support and education for the families of loved ones affected with mental health issues.

As mental health ambassadors, it's important that if we are spreading the message to open up, talk and seek help, that the help is actually there, anywhere in the country, anytime.

The commitment is there and I do not expect it to happen overnight, but our mental health services need more support in order to provide the care to a country that is now slowly willing to seek help.

As the documentary came to a close, I thought to myself, I really hope that the mother gets to play the piano a lot more frequently in the future.

The Irish Independent My1000Hours 5k/10k in association with Berocca will take place on Saturday March 7.

You can sign-up for the event at www.FITMagazine.ie/events.

For more information on the work of the My1000Hours team, follow them at @my1000hours or go to www.my1000hours.com.

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