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mental health advocate

By Rachel O Neill

I was first diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder when I was 19 but really I’d been suffering from it for as long as I could remember. I thought it was normal to get obsessed with studying for exams and to cry if I got 85 out of 100 instead of 90. I thought it was completely normal to have your brain scream things at you that you would never dream of saying to another person. I thought it was normal to be sad all the time. In reality, getting my diagnosis was my first step to admitting that my normality wasn’t everyone else's.

I was prescribed antidepressants and started seeing a therapist. I was of the belief that I could cure myself by talking to someone and taking my pills. I didn’t understand that anxiety and depression need to be managed rather than cured. So I took myself out of therapy and weaned myself off my meds, convinced that I was fine. I would go on to have a breakdown a year later and would go back to therapy for nearly 15 months.

I’m very open about my struggles and my problems but that doesn’t make it easy to tell people about them. You don’t want to appear weak or vulnerable and most of all, you don’t want to be treated differently to anyone else. You just want to be seen as a colleague that works hard and does their best regardless. 

Telling my manager about my problems was hard. It’s something you have to prepare for. You rehearse in your head what you’ll say and how they might react. In reality, I had nothing to worry about. My manager was very understanding about my problems and has been incredibly supportive in managing workloads when I need it.

Our work lives are more hectic than they used to be. Ever-changing deadlines, longer commutes and increased pressure means that employees can often feel like they have nobody to talk to. I wanted to do something about it and was lucky enough to be  given the opportunity to help The Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) and The Advertising Benevolent Society (TABS) launch SMASH, a campaign around their new employee assistance programme.

The programme which is run by Spectrum and offers 24/7 support for a range of different issues including mental health support, financial advice, legal advice and career advice. 

 SMASH is the first wellbeing programme of its kind for the advertising industry in Ireland and the programme will provide a variety of mental health supports and practical services, exclusively to IAPI’s two thousand members. The SMASH programme is funded by TABS, The Advertising Benevolent Society.

IAPI members, through the SMASH programme, will be able to avail of six professional consultation sessions on eight different concerns. The programme of up to 48 professional consultations will cover financial, legal, consumer, health, parenting and career advice as well as mediation and life coaching.

It’s a really good programme and I’m so proud to be involved in the launch because I believe that every employee should have access to it. 

More and more of us are taking days off work for mental health reasons. We don’t always say it’s mental health because there is still a stigma attached to taking time off for it. But with an EAP like Spectrum available, we can feel more comfortable in recognising and tackling our problems before they turn into a major crisis.

For those of us like me, who have been managing their conditions for longer, it’s comforting to know that there is a resource there for you if you need it. 

My mental health problems haven’t gone away. They are conditions that I have to manage closely. I’ve been on antidepressants for the last 18 months and I see a therapist regularly too. Even in doing all that, I can still struggle to get out of bed or to see my friends regularly, making my head a lonely place to be.

That being said, I’m optimistic that things always have the potential to get better and being able to share my story with my colleagues has shown that. Hopefully with a little more talk and a lot more action, more organisations will follow in IAPI’s footsteps and support their employees as much as they can.

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Piers Morgan and Coronation Street star Beverley Callard have commented on the ‘trend’ of celebrities opening up about their mental health issues, claiming that they’re trying to make mental health disorders ‘fashionable’.

The ludicrous and disheartening beliefs of both the Good Morning Britain host and the soap star have unsurprisingly ruffled a few feathers.

More and more people are suffering from disorders like anxiety, bipolar and depression these days and the last thing we should be doing is dismissing the conversation.

We idolise celebrities. We put them on pedestals and are more than likely going to believe what they say as opposed to your regular joe.

Using their platforms to raise awareness about disorders that plague many of us is far from harmful. It’s quite possibly one of the beneficial things they can do online instead of boasting about their luxurious lifestyles and shockingly expensive holidays.

Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner is one of many celebrities who has been an advocate for mental health in recent years, so there’s no doubt Piers’ claims angered the 22-year-old actress.

Sophie took to Twitter to express her disgust and disappointment in a series of moving tweets.

She wrote: “People who think it’s okay to make jokes about mental illness, I feel you must be lucky, because surely you don’t understand or can’t comprehend what it is like to have or know someone with an illness like this.

“Depression is the second biggest killer in affluent Europe and America. One of the greatest reasons being, I believe, is because mental illness has so much stigma surrounding it,” Sophie stated.

People are so afraid to discuss their mental health issues because of that overwhelming and unnecessary stigma. They fear being judged, laughed at and worst of all, not being taken seriously if they do discuss their problems.

Sophie continued: “If we can just all speak out about our experiences or our loved ones experiences we can help other people who suffer with mental illness not feel so alone. Let’s keep this dialogue going.

“You are not alone, you can manage your illness, and people who make fun of it are the minority… not you. You are loved and supported,” she concluded.

Truer words have never been spoken.
 

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