Talking is key for mental health issues

Prevention is key with one in six young people suffering from common mental illnesses and finding it difficult to get the help they need, a leading psychologist said yesterday.

“Adolescence and early adulthood are peak times for the onset of stress, distress and mental health issues,” said Margaret O’Rourke, a clinical psychologist and member of the Psychological Society of Ireland.

“At any one time, one in six young adults aged 16 to 24, will have a common mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression that meets the threshold for a clinical diagnosis.”

However, psychologists have identified a range of barriers to accessing effective and early care.

“Transitions between services for children and adults tend to be poorly co-ordinated and there is a lack of appropriate mental health care,” said Dr O’Rourke. “In that context, prevention is key.”

Dr O’Rourke, who based her finding on numerous reports on young people’s mental health, said more needed to be done to prevent suicide.

The Psychological Society of Ireland believes World Suicide Prevention Day, which takes place tomorrow, will encourage everyone to play their part in preventing suicide.

Around 500 people die by suicide in Ireland each year and 80% of the deaths by suicide are by men.

However, Ireland ranks the fourth highest in the EU for the number of 15- to 19-year- olds who take their own life so Ireland’s youth suicide figures are a huge cause for concern.

“One of the most stressful things about depression or anxiety is the loneliness, the isolation and the sense that the world is getting on with things without a care,” said Dr O’Rourke.

She put together a number of suggestions of what to say and do when people close feel depressed or suicidal.

One suggestion is to give the person a sense of normality and hope and remind them that they have the capacity to be happy.

“If you suspect that the person is really very down, find a way to gently ask them about thoughts they may have about suicide,” she said.

“If the answer is yes, then the most important thing is to encourage them to talk with a professional, such as their GP or local hospital.”

The main thing was to work with the person to keep them safe.

“You could also suggest that they reach out and call a helpline, such as the Samaritans on 116 123,” said Dr O’Rourke.

She advised against telling the person to “snap out of it” or to look at all they have, as depression is an illness and guilt and shame were part of depression and trying to “jolly things” along or minimising the issue would only trigger feelings of guilt, shame and isolation.

Dr O’Rouke, director of behavioural science at the School of Medicine in UCC, said people who felt depressed or suicidal can turn their lives around. It might be a slow process but they could start to feel better.

“Talk to someone close or to a professional,” she said. “Do something, however small, to deal with the things that are troubling you. One small step each day will help break down life’s hassles bit by bit.”

At Console’s suicide prevention conference in Dublin tomorrow will be musician, TV star and positive mental health campaigner, Niall ‘Bressie’ Breslin, who will tell why he believes that opening up about mental health difficulties is the first stage to recovery.

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