“To this day nobody knows the truth about how much I struggled” - Ciara McGuinness, Chairperson of Please Talk UCD

According to Aware, a charity helping those suffering from depression, more than 450,000 experience some form of depression at any one time in Ireland. That is a staggering 9.8% of the population of the Republic Ireland. Women are statistically more likely to be affected depression compared to men, with 1 in 4 women compared to 1 in 10 men requiring treatment for depression according to the Health Services Executive (HSE).

However, statistics like this should be taken with a pinch of salt, due to the stigma which has been attached to the subject of depression, especially from the male perspective.

Men are notorious about being reluctant to come forward and speaking up when it concerns their health, mentally and physically. I will put my hand up and say that I have fallen into this category a good few times.

Why are people so reluctant to speak out about their mental health? – the aforementioned stigma.

Many men, but not just men it must be stated, think that they will be seen as weak, less of a person, almost shunned to a certain extent by their counter parts, if they revealed that they were suffering from depression. Talking about feelings and emotions is not a man’s strong point, I can testify to that.

A HSE report from 2007, appeared to show that Irish people were becoming more receptive with their attitude towards mental health.

85% of people agreed that “anyone can experience a mental health problem”, however this was countered by 62%, men and women, stating they ‘would not want others knowing if they themselves had a mental health problem’.

Not just here in Ireland but globally as well mental health is being seen more and more as an issue that needs to be looked at in greater depth, in Europe and across the World bodies like the European Commission and World Health Organisation (WHO), have released actions plans in attempts to deal with an issue that affects approximately 4-5% of the Globe’s population

The WHO have a seven year action plan that was initiated in 2013. One of the main points of the projects vision is that by the end there ‘is a world in which mental health is valued, promoted and protected’.

Students and young people in general, make up a large portion of those who go through depression. Many people may be surprised by this as they may think:

‘Is college not supposedly the best time of a young person’s life?’

Ciara McGuinness, current Chairperson of Please Talk in UCD, described her struggles with depression from as early as 4th Year in Secondary School, and how she ‘’attended various different forms of therapy including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, art therapy, and one on one counseling.’’

Ciara started college in DCU back in 2011 but “really couldn’t find my place,” she says.

Ciara ended up dropping out and ‘’it took a lot of determination and support from my family to go back to college,” in UCD in 2012.

“Shortly before Christmas in 2nd year, in UCD, I was taken by ambulance to A&E in Beaumont hospital after I hit rock bottom and couldn’t see any other way out.’’

However, Ciara isn’t alone, as many student experience severe cases of depression during their college life.

As rates of depression among students have steadily increased according to an article published by John Broderick, a counseling psychologist, in the Education Yearbook 2013 where he says that from 2007-2013 rates of depression among students increased from 9% to 24%.

‘’It was my first time living away from home...I got lost in the crowd and withdrew into myself.’’

This was one of the things that Zoe Forde, a recent UCD graduate and former Please Talk UCD Chairperson who has advocated for an end to the stigma surrounding mental health said to me when I asked her to recount her experiences.

Five years ago she entered the world of the biggest college in Ireland, UCD. Zoe moved to Dublin from Monaghan, joining the thousand other students moving away from home. She “went from a Secondary School of 200 students to sitting in classes of 500 people.’’

“I’d sit in lecture theatres and just cry because I was so unhappy with my life and the person I was.’’

Unfortunately Zoe’s situation during her first few months of college fits the mould of many students who have moved away from home. With students living away from home five times more likely to become depressed than those who lived at home. Depression was also more common among female students according to a survey undertaken by Aware, the mental health Charity, in October of this year.

The fact it is more common among female students may be due to the fact they are more willing to open up about their emotions and feelings, however, it is only one of a myriad of potential reasons.

Both Ciara and Zoe struggled through their own battles with depression.

 “To this day nobody knows the truth about how much I struggled", said Ciara.

However, one thing that did help Ciara and Zoe to start opening up more to others and come out at the end of the tunnel was getting involved in Please Talk in UCD. Zoe was Chair of the organisation in UCD before Ciara and it was Zoe’s ‘enthusiasm and encouragement’ that helped Ciara to get as involved as she did in Please Talk.

Getting involved in Please Talk and Mental Health outreach work enabled Zoe to ‘‘finally gain a voice and passion I had never had before.’’ Please Talk enabled Ciara “to meet people who had struggled in similar ways to me, and provided a fantastic support network.’’

Talking is a sign of strength, not weakness. There is help out there, you’re never alone, no matter how bad things may get.

Photo: Michael Summers/Flickr