Charity Aware wants to highlight mental health issues not an automatic life sentence

Niall Jones, Bríd O'Meara, director of services, Aware, and Colm Carey. Picture: Shane O'Neill

Depression and suicide should not be automatically linked, says Aware, that educates and empowers people to look after their mental health.

Aware clinical director Dr Claire Hayes said depression and bipolar disorder were really challenging and could at times be quite harrowing conditions to deal with.

“Our concern is that often society’s reaction to and focus on suicide can perpetuate the idea that it is in some way a valid option or an inevitable outcome,” said Dr Hayes.

“Just because people might think they are suicidal does not mean that they have to do it. There are always options.”

Dr Hayes was speaking at at an event in Dublin to mark the start of Aware’s Depression Awareness Week — Stand Up for Surviving.

It wants to highlight that mental health issues do not mean an automatic life sentence.

Dr Hayes said just because people think they are better off dead does not mean that they are suicidal.

“Any of us can have thoughts like that at any particular time. They are horrible, frightening thoughts but they are only thoughts.”

Charity Aware wants to highlight mental health issues not an automatic life sentence

Dr Hayes said Aware was able to help people cope with however they were feeling and see what they could do to improve the quality of their lives. She believed everyone could work together to encourage people to get help for mental health issues at an earlier stage of their lives.

“In that way, we can help to alleviate some of the pain and suffering going on across the country.”

While she did not think there was too much in the media about people taking their own lives she felt there was a sense sometimes that the more something was talked about, the more it became an option.

She had spoken with parents of 11 and 12-year-olds with mental health issues and they were aware that suicide was an option.

“I would not in any way dictate that people talk about suicide in one way or another but there is the other side of the story — people do get help and do survive.

“There is a huge number of people alive in this country because of Aware’s support and services offered by other organisations.”

Aware chief executive Dominic Layden said Aware received 11,000 calls to its support line and 2,300 emails to its support mail service last year. “We regularly hear from people whose lives have changed or indeed saved, thanks to the support and insight they have gained from Aware,” said Mr Layden.

Support organisation for those with mental illness

Jeanne McDonagh found skin cancer easier to deal with than bipolar disorder.

“I recently had melanoma but I was not as concerned about it as I was about having a mental illness,” said Jeanne.

The communications and strategy consultant from Dublin was confident that she could manage the melanoma.

“It was in a small distinct place — I could read about it and people were very sympathetic,” said Joanne.

“During a bout of depression you go into a really dark place. It is terrifying and you have no control over it.

“People are loath to go to that dark place with you to help because it scares them.”

Jeanne was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 24 years old. The illness first appeared when she was aged 15.

“Once the depression is managed, the difference is just phenomenal. I have gone from wanting to end my life to living a very full and varied one.”

Jeanne, 43, who is happily married, said the doctor treating her put her in touch with Aware and the support she got from the organisation and other people using it really helped.

“It was not knowing what was wrong with me that was more frightening than being labelled as having a mental illness.

“I speak about anxiety and depression because I really believe there is nothing to be ashamed of.”


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