The Stigma of Mental Health: England vs Ireland
Updated: Jul 29, 2019
I collaborate with photographer, artist and fellow former Tribe colleague Emma Roche in order to expose the difference of stigma toward mental health problems in England and Ireland.
My mental health journey growing up in South West England
I can’t really pinpoint a specific time where I went from Not Depressed™ to Depressed™. I think it was an illness that crept up on me slowly over the course of my younger years. However, I do remember thinking that how I felt was totally normal. It turns out, finding no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope for the future and no motivation to do daily activities wasn’t an everyday thing. And that was just on the surface of things.
Going through school, I’d make my friends laugh with my dry humour, sarcasm and cynicism. I’m still, and still have, all of those things to this day – but perhaps a little more diluted. I encountered everything in life with skyscraper high walls. I couldn’t care less about relationships, as no human being was EVER coming close to me. I couldn’t see further into the future than the evening ahead, and I had a general dislike for life. Something about this made me question; is there something more to this than me just being me?
I decided to take an online test. Severely depressed. Do not take this test as a diagnosis. See your GP. I went through the entire Google roster, and I was at the top of the scale each time. I decided to tell my mum, and we went to the doctor. So began my journey of antidepressants and counselling. Now, there was a reason for all of this – my illness, my high walls, everything – but that’s irrelevant. What Emma and I are choosing to focus on is our environmental reactions to mental health.
When I fully realised that I had depression – that the things I felt weren’t everyday feelings, that I wasn’t just a teenager going through puberty, and that there was a valid reason for all of this, I was hugely embarrassed. I felt I was too young to be feeling this, and I was embarrassed to be so broken when everyone around me seemed totally fine. In 2011/2, when I became conscious of my two mental health problems, I buried it deep. I was terrified of what my peers would think. I had the impression that everyone had perfect nuclear lives, and I was an alien – a freak. I realised over time that two of my best friends also had these health problems. After even more time, I realised that actually, 1 in 4 people experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. This was huge news to me and felt quite freeing. After all, it took me several years to tell people that I’d suffered so badly with anxiety and depression.
I always felt truly ashamed to have a mental health problem. It made me feel weak, embarrassed and guilty. 6 years after receiving a diagnosis, which explained so much to me about my mentality growing up – I now realise that I had nothing to be ashamed of. However, it was probably because mental illness definitely wasn’t a normal thing in school. There had been people who suffered terribly with eating disorders, but that was as far as our mental health dialogue extended – and that was only through whispers. There were never talks or discussions about mental health. It was a mystery.
I feel as if the issue of mental health is an issue far more exposed in England now – however, not by nearly enough. As well as requiring more exposure, it desperately needs far more funding. You can support mental health charities such as Mind, who help people deal with mental health problems each and every day in the UK.
My mental health journey, growing up in Ireland
As a sufferer of mental health issues myself, my own personal mental health journey has been a very quiet one. The reason for this silence is due to the culture of the place I live in; Dublin, Ireland. The people of Ireland are very private, not much of peoples personal lives are openly discussed with friends or family. Which is funny because I find this to be hypocritical as we love to gossip.
Not so long ago in the 60’s, many people who suffered from mental health difficulties whether it be depression, bi-polar disorder, psychosis etcetera would have been usually forced into institutionalised mental health facilities. This is the shocking truth on how the state was dealing with these problems at that time. There was no research, no structure to the problem. No one was speaking about this ever-evolving issue and nothing was being done about it.
From as young as I can remember I do not recall anyone speaking about mental health openly in an encouraging environment. In primary School or secondary school, mental health was never talked about. I was lucky that I was blessed with brilliant parents who sought out these never before heard of services such as psychologists, counsellors, and psychiatrists; all people which I had never heard of before and had no idea what their jobs entailed. This was a whole new world for me, and also for those around me. No one knew how to react to these new therapies. Did they work? Were they to be talked about? No one had any idea. This is due to the lack of mental health awareness at the time. I distinctly remember to this day, friends going through bouts of depression and anxiety and being totally clueless as to what the cause was, only to realise months or sometimes even years later what they were really going through. So many students going through these tough times alone, with nowhere to turn.
No diagnoses were being given to these young people, which some may argue is a good thing. But no helping hands were offered either. If any mental health problems were detected, there were immediate labels given to the person; ‘’unwell’’ ‘’crazy’’ ‘’lost their marbles’’ and so on. These labels stuck and were of no help to anyone. Back in the 50’s and 60’s in Ireland, if anything was ever wrong someone was always told that they ‘’suffered from their nerves’’. What was the solution to these so-called nerves? Alcohol. To have a drink to calm you down would be the answer to all your problems. Which as we now know today, actually escalates the problem and worsens it. This point could be associated with Ireland’s vast alcoholic problems, as this was the only way we were thought to cope at the time.
Ireland has some of the highest suicide rates within the EU. These rates predominantly show males as being the larger amount of victims. It is often said that this is the case for many men, as they do not want to feel emasculated for talking about their problems. Some individuals may see a man who suffers from depression as ‘weak’ even though this is not the case.
You can find out more about Emma over at her website www.emmarochephotography.com.