In the first of a series in on mental health issues in Ireland, Leanne Waters discusses mental wellbeing and depression
The term mental health is a concept that we are beginning to see again and again in contemporary Irish society. From online support organisations to the HSE telling us on our television screens to “look after your mental health,” it appears that there’s no getting away from the challenge of having to take on and really consider this seemingly enigmatic notion.
With so much importance being weighted on the term itself, one does beg to wonder, what exactly is mental health? According to Sandra Hogan of Aware Ireland – a national support organisation for depression – mental health can be seen in various lights but in a broader sense refers to the emotional and psychological wellbeing of any given individual.
Hogan states: “There are many different definitions for mental health, but in general it refers to our mind, emotions and thought processes; how we think and feel about ourselves and others and how we cope with life and its challenges. Mental health issues are common and can affect any of us at any time. Many factors can influence a person’s mental wellbeing: difficulties in life (for example) relationship problems, financial concerns, bullying and loss are quite significant.”
It has become clear in recent years that mental health has not been valued on the level to which it thoroughly deserves in our society. On this point, Hogan contends: “We still have a long way to go in terms of how we deal with mental health but I think that as a society we are getting better.
“Young people can really help with that too, so it’s important that they do what they can to help to make it a more open society where people with depression (and mental ill health) can get the help and support they need.”
This being said, awareness, empathy and understanding remain factors of absolute necessity in creating a more open and harmonious country for mental health to flourish. One of the main consequences of poor mental health we can see in daily life is depression. Aware.ie classes depression as “a very common condition which affects more than one in ten people at any one time. Any of us, irrespective of age, gender or background can be affected at any point in our life. Most people come through depression with help, and early recognition and ongoing support are essential for a positive outcome.”
On this matter, there are several different variations and forms in which depression can manifest itself. Among these are mild and moderate depression, severe depression, as well as bipolar disorder. The latter of these conditions, in its most primitive of explanations, involves periods of extreme depressions and of extreme highs, along with the usual symptoms of a depressive state.
These symptoms, which are seen in all of the above conditions include: feelings of boredom, sadness, lethargy and anxiety; disruptions in normal sleeping habits; poor concentration; low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness; a loss of interest in socialising and pastimes; and, of course, suicidal thoughts.
According to the experts of Aware, the foundations of this of mental ill-health condition can be rooted from many contributors. They state: “Depression has a number of possible causes. For some people, it comes about as a result of a traumatic life event such as bereavement, relationship breakdown, financial difficulties or bullying.
“In other situations, the person may have an inherent tendency towards depression, and such genetic factors can be key in the case of bipolar disorder. This mood disorder involves not just periods of depression, but also periods of elation, where the person’s mood is significantly higher than normal. During these periods, he/she may have excessive energy with little need for sleep, may have grandiose ideas and may engage in risk-taking behaviour.”
Now that we can argue with extraordinary confidence that depression and mental ill health are not only dangerous to any individual but that they are also extremely common, here we must consider the threat of these things to students.
In a time when we are contending with so many demanding factors, we as students must come to terms with the fact that we are potentially damaging our own mental health. It seems a natural occurrence to believe in our own invincibility while we are so young.
However, the reality remains that despite our somewhat audacious views on what we can and can’t handle, we as students are extremely vulnerable to the threat of mental ill health. Social life and academic studies aside, without prioritising our psychological and emotional wellbeing, we run the risk of causing more damage to ourselves than a €230 failed module causes to our bank accounts.
On the topic of student vulnerability, Hogan decisively expresses her position: “Yes students and young people are at risk of mental health issues. There are a lot of changes that happen during adolescence and when combined with the transition from school to college, it can cause problems.
“Mental health issues can impact on a person’s confidence, it can cause relationship difficulties, and it can hamper studies as well. So it is very important to get help. Eating a balanced nutritious diet is important. [As well as] limiting alcohol intake if you are prone to low mood, getting regular exercise, having close friendships [and] talking through any issues with someone close.”
Universally, January is seen to be one of the most depressing times on the calendar, with January 22nd reported to be the saddest day of the year. It remains that time of year when the celebrations have wrapped up, when reality and responsibility have fallen firmly back on the ground, when the weather promotes something along the lines of pathetic fallacy and when funds are probably at their lowest. And with the ongoing economic turmoil that is hitting the majority of the nation, it seems all too natural to allow for submission into what is truly a depressive state.
Moreover, in a matter of such magnitude and of such personal properties, it is nothing less than necessary to approach with an air of delicacy and understanding. It is an important facet of the issue to not give in to the will of an apparent cloud of negativity. In the knowledge that at some point or another we will all suffer from some mental health issue or indeed depression itself, it becomes easier to lighten one’s troublesome load through many ways and outlets. Firstly, we have Aware itself. Hogan talks a little bit about the work they do.
“Aware provides information and emotional support services for both individuals who experience depression and also family members/friends concerned for a loved one. Services include loCall Helpline (1890 303 302) open 365 days a year; support groups nationwide and online; email support service (firstname.lastname@example.org); free information and online discussion forums. Aware also offers a Beat the Blues secondary schools awareness programme to increase knowledge of depression among young people and enable them to identify sources of help in their lives.”
The foundation’s mission is to “create a society where people with depression and their families are understood and supported, are free from stigma and have access to a broad range of appropriate therapies to enable them to reach their full potential”. It is a voluntary establishment formed in 1985 by a group of interested patients and mental health professionals, whose aim was to assist that section of the population whose lives are directly affected by depression.
The website goes on to explain: “400,000 different people suffer from depression in Ireland at any one time but many hide their condition and never get help. Sadly, over 500 people take their own life each year. Since its foundation in 1985, Aware has been working energetically to bring support to depression sufferers and their families, and to dispel the myths and misunderstandings of this devastating illness.”
In a context of such a deeply sensitive subject, perhaps the right words can come from few sources. One source may be found in one Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was among the most famous of historical characters who was known to have suffered mental ill health and had a “tendency to be melancholy” and once commented that such an affliction is to be observed as it is “a misfortune, not a fault”.
On the matter, Lincoln said: “In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it.
“Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You cannot now realise that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once.”
For more information, visit www.aware.ie.