As part of our Mental Health series, Darragh O'Connor gives us his very personal account of mental health in Ireland.
The reality of the post boom and continued bust of the Irish social and political atmosphere is that we all know someone who has had or is currently dealing with depression. Sadly, some of us have even dealt face to face with suicide. We have the second highest suicide rate in Europe, as the spectre of this option for a lot of people is something that is very attractive and something that won’t go away until the causes are addressed.
All too often are the unhelpful lines from people who have never actually experienced depression spoken without actually understanding that it doesn’t help. Lines like “it’s a long term solution to a short term problem”, “it’s a selfish act”, “things will get better” etc.
While said with the best of intentions I am sure, to a person willing to end their life, these are, at best, background noise and at worst, harmful and make things worse. Why? This is because the jump from depression to suicide isn’t a switch for most adults.There are signs and it’s an extremely long process that ends because the person can’t handle the fight anymore and wants out.
In my experience, having depression from the age of 16 and severe depressive bouts during my Masters, the process is one that grabs you and you can only run from it for so long. I used college and work to draw attention away from it. However, when my postgraduate funding was pulled as a result of the crash and employment became near impossible mixed with the looming fees (and other personal factors), things got too bad and I tried to kill myself on two different occasions. Why would I do that?
It was logical; no job, eight years in college wasted, educated in a dead field thus being unemployable and being smashed with fees that I didn’t owe. There is only so much one person can deal with and at that point in a year long legal battle, it became too much.
There are two ways in which I try to explain the feeling of depression to people; a bank account that has a limited amount of money that runs out or the need to change a game that you are losing like the old Sega games. It’s less a desire to die and more a desire for things to change or for the bad situation to stop.
I saw, and still do see, suicide as an option. Not one I want to take but one that is on the table if everything else fails. This is called “normalized suicide” and leads to an interesting take on life. It’s not fun nor is it something I wish to have. There is at no point in time when suicide should be seen as an option, but I promised I’d be honest here.
That is my experience, and I am sure that some will relate and some won’t. The funny part is that it wasn’t until I got ‘help’ from the HSE that things went from me being depressed to outright giving up on life. It’s because the ‘help’ simply didn’t help.
As we have seen from the debacle that was the government severely underfunding the mental health system, the results of not taking mental health seriously can result in what I call ‘the Suicide Box’; the roof of which is firmly kept on as long as we don’t tackle the problem.
Prior to my experience with the HSE, I was attending “My Mind” sessions and they were fantastic. The best thing you can do for someone who is depressed is to listen to them or help them find someone that will listen. “My Mind” offers that; the HSE don’t because they can’t afford it. End of.
All the HSE did for me was make me feel worse and feel that I was wasting time. A 20 minute session every two months doesn’t cut it. And from what I am hearing from a lot of people, this is the common feeling.
Why write this? I want you to know that you are not alone, not “a freak”, a “failure” or anything else that you may call yourself. Depression is a horrible thing and can spark from any number or combination of factors: chemical imbalances in the brain, family or friend issues, inheriting it or the very real impact of the socio-economic effects of cuts from the government. In my opinion, they didn’t seem to care if I lived or died when I was going through my lowest point.
To most others, depression and the factors of suicide is something that a lot of folks don’t understand as they don’t experience it directly. The feeling of your mind trying to destroy itself and you with it is something that is too abstract to a lot of people. I hope that, as the stigma of mental illness goes, understanding will follow.
So, here are the practical things that you can do: Talk to someone. That’s the first step; family members, friends etc.
Seriously, open up to a friend if you feel you need to. Yes, some will leave and that will hurt but the ones that stay and help are ones you want to hang on to. One of the many things keeping me around here is that I never want to hurt my friends like I did after the more serious of the attempts on my life. That really is worth considering; people love you even if you hate yourself.
Next, contact Pieta House and My Mind; they’re awesome and have great people there that can actually help you to help yourself.
Get active and do some exercise; I know, I thought this was BS too until I started doing it. Weight is something that goes up and down a lot with depression. Working out regularly will do three things; it’ll give you something to do, make you feel better about yourself and will burn off a lot of the negative energy.
And finally, be creative. I funnel a lot my depressive energy into extreme music with my band. In my experience, it is better screaming about negative things and misanthropia rather than self harming or worse. I attempted to show people what depression sounds like and found it very helpful.
Black metal is a genre that is marked by suicides and darkness in general, but like all art that can help expel the inner turmoil. The point is that making something is a lot better than destroying yourself.
Plus, you never know if what you do can touch someone and help others. That is something that I have been lucky enough to have experienced too.
I hope that we as a nation can break free of the “Suicide Box” and that mental health reform will be something that is on the table of every government going forward. Without that progress, we have no hope of things getting better.
If you have been affected by the contents of this article, Samaritans can be called 24/7 on: 116 123 (this number is free to call and you don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans).