This issue, The University Observer has begun its series on mental health, both illnesses themselves and how society perceives them. Our world is not forgiving to those with mental illness. Despite how overwhelmingly common it is to experience some form of mental illness, be it mild or serious, a stigma still seems to surround mental illness and the issues surrounding it.
Whether we want to admit it or not, college is an incredibly tough environment to exist in. Some of us travel across the country to attend UCD. Living away from home can be stressful and entering a new everyday routine in a place as big and anonymous as UCD can be alienating and highly stress inducing. It is highly common for depression to take hold in university as well as other mental illnesses such as eating disorders.
So, why the stigma? Nobody feels ashamed or guilty for having the flu, or breaking their leg. Why do we choose to live in silence while we suffer endlessly with mental illness? There really is no simple answer for this, but the responsibility for changing things lies with our generation. Our parents grew up in conservative Ireland, where silence and shame was king. We are fortunate now that things are so different, but the stigma of mental illness remains.
For the stigma to be removed, we must begin to talk. If you aren’t comfortable talking to your family, talk to your friends, or if that’s not possible, utilise UCD’s counselling service. These services exist for a reason and beginning to talk, both publicly and privately, is the only way that we can begin to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness.
From a personal perspective, I myself have struggled with depression and know the isolation and alienation one can feel when battling mental illness. I have seen friends struggle, some more than others, but one thing tied us all together: we were all too ashamed to properly speak about it. It was only when people began speaking out that something could change and help could be sought, be it in the form of counselling, medication or, in some cases, hospitalisation.
Things rarely get this bad, but it is still important to be able to verbalise our feelings and speak openly about mental illnesses without fear of shame or stigma. But what services are available? Here in UCD we have a lot to help those who are struggling. Chaplains and student advisors are there to advise students or to refer them to counselling or other mental health services. Counselling remains free in UCD and help can also be found from UCD Students’ Union Welfare Vice-President Scott Ahearn.
Seeking help and speaking up is far easier said than done. We are bombarded with the Please Talk message, but it doesn’t explain how to properly work up the courage to admit to yourself and other people that something is wrong. When you find it hard to get out of bed in the morning and feel alienated from everyone around you, having a smiling Welfare Crew member telling you to speak up can feel somewhat patronising. Care and compassion must be central in dealing with those who are suffering with mental illness.
It’s incredibly hard to feel able to speak about these things, but by some of us speaking out, hopefully this can empower others. The message is very simple and clear. Mental illness is far more common than anyone would think. You are not alone. There are supports and structures in place to help you. Campaigns like Please Talk can only do so much. It is up to people to actually sit down and talk to each other. A culture of openness and understanding must be created so that we can move on from stigmas.
In seeking help, I found a way in which to live with mental illness, as did several others around me. It is not impossible to come back from struggling, just as it is not impossible to come back from a physical illness. Openness on everyone’s parts will help alleviate the alienation that currently stigmatises mental illness and allow us all a deeper understanding of each other and ourselves. Seeking help for mental illness is an incredibly brave thing to do. It is now up to all of us to help sufferers feel this way, especially if it’s ourselves we are trying to convince.
It is with sadness that we must announce that this is the last issue that our Music Editor Grace Murphy will be working on. Grace imbued the music section and The University Observer office with her trademark effervescence and infectious enthusiasm as well as a sense of professionalism. We wish Grace good luck on her new third-level path and hope she finds happiness there. We’ll miss you Grace, so don’t forget to visit us!