On Thursday 28th April, nearly 500 people gathered at the gates of Dail Eireann at a demonstration organised by Mental Health Ireland and the USI (Union of Students Ireland) to challenge the cuts to Mental Health budget. Below is a transcript of my address to those souls who braved high winds and heavy rain...
And the day came,
When the risk
To remain tight
In a bud.
Was more painful
Than the risk
by Anais Nin
When the risk
To remain tight
In a bud.
Was more painful
Than the risk
by Anais Nin
The temptation to lay the blame at the door of our politicians and political leaders for the current crises that exists in our country in relation to the mental health and emotional wellbeing of our people is in many ways justified but is not the entire story and abdicates society from its responsibilities and robs us as individuals of the immense capacity and power we all possess as individuals to effect real and meaningful change in this area.
The now infamous image of a near empty Dail chamber during last Tuesday’s debate, an image which has swept across the nation and horrified and angered our people, an image that has afforded us all a crystal clear glimpse into how immensely out of touch and wilfully ignorant Dail Eireann is when it comes to the stark reality of what is being experienced by many of our people and how our politicians have been complicit in perpetuating the stifling stigma that still engulfs this aspect of the human experience.
Martin Luther King once said that "in the end, we will remember, not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends". Generations of our politicians have ensured that our citadel of democracy and debate behind us has become a temple of silence when it comes to the Mental Health and emotional wellbeing of our people.
Silence in a country where the scourge of suicide is spreading carnage, despair, fear and terror amongst families and communities all across our nation, as witnessed by the seven people that have ended their lives in Laois over the last three weeks .
Silence in a country where if you are a man under 50 years of age, your greatest chance of dying is not from heart disease, not from cancer, not from a car crash or a gangland murder but through suicide.
Silence in a country where if you are a female you are two to three times more likely to try and end your life than a male counterpart.
Silence in a country where we spend less than 6% of the health budget on Mental Health, yet the World Health organisation states that it should be a minimum of 12%.
Silence in a country where the renowned medical journal the lancet has said that depression is the leading cause of disability in the country and the number one reason for absenteeism in the workplace.
Silence in a country where on a Saturday night in Galway city, a young woman walked on to O’Brien’s bridge, a suicide hotspot in that city, where the river corrib flows violently beneath and the minute you jump in you are swept immediately and without hope of survival into Galway Bay. As she climbed the wall and was about to jump in, she was grabbed and saved at the last second by a member of the Gardai. Whilst the Guard held on to the woman, a young student walked the very same path and in front of the Guard and a distraught onlooking crowd, threw himself into the river.
Many politicians and political leaders showed great courage during last year’s Marriage referendum but seldom has the Dail or our country witnessed such a cowardly and cruel act as the recent removal of funding from the Mental Health budget where because of stigma,the majority of those affected have still not found their voice and this reality has been consistently exploited by generations of our political leaders.
They will say they do not have a mandate from the people. Well Lincoln didn’t have a mandate from the people when he began the process of ending slavery in the US. He done so because it was the right thing to do.
John F Kennedy had no mandate to engage and support the civil rights movement but he did so because it was the right thing to do.
Connolly, Pearse and the rest of the 1916 leaders didn’t have a mandate to try and gain our political freedom but they did so because it was the right thing to do.
More than ever, we need our new Dail and this generation of political leaders to show similar courage and vision to transform the deafening silence and ensure that the area of Mental Health and Emotional wellbeing takes its richly deserved place at the altar of equality and parity within the Health services. Not because they have a mandate to do it, but because it’s the right thing to do.
And those of us that are proactively and consistently engaged in this area are full of desire and enthusiasm to support and work with our politicians to help make this a reality. Funding for the sake of funding is not sufficient. We need to embrace these challenges with genuine initative, energy, empathy, creativity, imagination and innovation to discover the solutions needed towards new frontiers of real and effective policies and services.
The message needs to ring out loud and clear from here today, it needs to ring out around the chambers of Dail Eireann and to our political leaders, it needs to ring out around our educational institutions and to our educational leaders,it needs to ring out amongst our sporting bodies and to our sporting leaders, it needs to ring out around our workplaces and to our business leaders,
the message needs to ring out that the responsibility to transform a culture and normalise the conversation around this area rests with all of them and all of us, that no longer and never again will the Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing of our people be allowed to dwell in the shadows of repression and ignorance and be cloaked in secrecy and silence.
That a new dawn of hope is emerging and that this generation of Irish people are determined that in their time, the walls of stigma and taboo around Mental Health and Emotional wellbeing will finally be torn down and removed from Irish society.
To finish with, there is much fear that still surrounds this area but acknowledging that the power for transformation and meaningful change rests with each of us, individually and collectively, I’m reminded what the famous Polish physicist Marie Curie once said ‘There is nothing in life to be feared, only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.
Now is the time, in our era for us to understand more in this area and we owe it to the tens of thousands we have lost and are losing to suicide, we owe it to the families that are left to deal with the carnage after the loss of a loved one through suicide, we owe it those whom are living lives of quiet desperation and silent misery with inner darkness, grief, toxic levels of stress or anxiety,
we owe it to our Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, Grandmother and Grandfathers, friends, teammates and work colleagues whom courageously and kindly support those struggling with some aspect of their wellbeing,
we owe it to our children yet unborn to embrace the Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing challenges of our nation, to deepen our understanding of depression, to deepen our understanding of suicide but more than anything and perhaps the most important of all, to deepen our understanding of ourselves.
By embarking on that challenging but liberating inner journey towards our real and authentic selves, we will succeed in producing the more meaningful and authentic connections and relationships that we all secretly crave.
The dream that dwells within the heart and soul of humanity is to come into harmony and inhabit the fullness of our vast and awesome true selves. As human beings, we have only scratched the surface of our immense potential and capacity to create a culture and society that is a nourishing force for human and social development that will maintain our personal growth and social wellbeing. That, along with what has already been said, will have a profound impact for this and future generations of Irish people when it comes to their Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing.None of us can walk another person’s path for them but we can certainly walk it with them. We have a sacred responsibility in this small but great nation of ours to walk it with each other.