Last week’s article addressed the early warning signs of mental health issues, published just hours before the devastating tragedy of the Hawe family emerged. Since then we as a community and a nation feel a sense of tragic loss, immersed in disbelief but touched by the uncomfortable notion that this could be anybody’s story; nobody knew, nobody could have guessed, and nobody can comprehend the unimaginable horror in that home.
We do know the wider facts and statistics about mental health, but I wonder do we realise what they mean? Do we realise how the statistics translate into everyday realities at home, at work or when we are out socialising? Do we know where or how to get help?
Facts and the reality
Fact: One-in-three suffer from psychological distress during their lifetime and one-in-six has a mental health condition right now.
Reality: If you look around in the office, at home, in the gym, when with friends or family either you or somebody in your company, is going to suffer from a mental health issue in the future. Look a little further and if there are six people close by one of those six is suffering from a mental health problem NOW.
Fact: 56% of Irish people keep their mental health challenges private. The same survey, by See Change, reports that a staggering 57% of employees suffering from mental health illness do not want their employer to know about their mental health as they fear it would affect their career prospects.
Reality: Whether you are at home, with friends or at work one of your six friends, family members or colleagues is suffering from a mental health illness as we speak but in silence. Sitting silently saying nothing, ashamed of how they feel, afraid of judgment and conscious of the stigma attached to a mental health label. Unable to cope and unable to say anything.
How can this change? Where can you get help or how can you support somebody who needs help?
Say the hard but important things
The most difficult thing to say is often the most important thing to say. If you feel sad, depressed, lonely, anxious, stressed, can’t sleep or worry a lot, you need support. While it might be hard to get the initial words out the relief once you do is immense. Talk to someone and do so as soon as you can. The earlier you talk, the quicker you get help, the faster your mental health improves. If on the other hand, you feel that somebody you know is suffering in silence ask if he or she is ok? Offer to go for a coffee and chat. If you do not know them well enough, share this article with them, or with your global email address book, and offer help that way.
If you are struggling to cope, go to your GP or a SwiftCare Clinic. GP’s are trained to deal with early stage mental health issues. Before the appointment you will want to cancel – resist this. Prepare yourself to feel emotional and upset but be safe in the knowledge that it is both normal and ok. This is a hard and brave step. Your GP will speak to you and might refer you to a psychologists or counsellors.
A Trained Counsellor
If you prefer to go straight to a counsellor the Irish Association of Counsellors & Psychotherapists (IACP) offer a list of trained and supervised counsellors by location. The list contains the names, contact details and how much you pay per session. If you have a private health plans the cost if usually covered. If not and you are struggling to manage your finances many counsellors offer a sliding scale of payment depending on your circumstances.
If you need support or if you are supporting a loved one Aware, The Samaritans, St Patrick’s, Walk in My Shoes, each offers access to support and help over the phone. The Samaritans offer 24/7/365 support while the other services have set operating times. The services are free and referrals for face-to-face support is possible.
Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP)
EAP schemes or Corporate Solutions are offered by the main health insurers VHI and Laya to support employees wellness. While many companies are part of this scheme , the vast majority of employees are unaware it exists. The service offers confidential phone support, and up to five yearly sessions with a qualified counsellor. You can avail of this service secure in the knowledge that nobody from your workplace has access to any of your private information or know that you are availing of it.
If your company runs this scheme ensure that your staff know about it. Send an email or put up information in several public places. Maybe by the water cooler, in the kitchen, in the bathroom cubicles or any other place that people are likely to see it.
A national organisation offering support to people coping with feelings of stress, depression, worry, anxiety or other mental health challenges offers help in a variety of ways. For example, Aware offers a free eight module Life Skills Programme, both online and in small groups, to help you cope with life’s challenges. If you prefer to go to a support group they have weekly meetings in a variety of locations around the country.
Open the conversation – How can you help
Workplaces, community groups, social or sporting clubs are key settings to bring awareness of and address attitudes around mental health. If you and your workplace, club or group are open to creating a culture of openness and support around mental health See Change and Walk in My Shoes offer you support to do so. Dedicate a day, a week or a month to sharing information, having talks and generally raising awareness.
The Grass is Greener
We are familiar with the age-old adage ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ and, in this case, it’s absolutely true. On the other side of any mental health issue, the grass is greener; the sky is bluer, and life is easier. The path there is rugged, hard to navigate and often uncomfortable but once you get help, once you seek support, once you begin the process your future brightens beyond imagination.
By Sinead Brady