Different Shades Of Blue

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Niall Breslin, aka Bressie, before the Joint Committee on Health and Children in January

Fiona Kennedy, who has clinical depression and borderline personality disorder, yesterday wrote the following on the Facebook page of her Sunny Spells & Scattered Showers blog:

I AM SICK OF HEARING ABOUT BRESSIE AND JIM BREEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They aren’t actually the only people in the entire country who understand mental health issues. Also, as an aside, depression isn’t the only mental health issue that affects people, and it’s not just young people who experience difficulties either. Despite what the media may think.

There. I said it.

(I’ve had a very long day, I’m very tired and my patience threshold is below zero)

Later, Fiona wrote:

That was an hour ago. I’m even more tired now, but having driven in and out of town to collect Hubby, I’m also wired, and I’ve had time to think.

On reflection, there is a whole lot more going on than simply being pissed off at two people who are doing one of the most crucial thing that needs doing to get the ball rolling on changing our mental health services – talking. Raising awareness. Letting people know that asking for help is ok.

But that’s where I hit a pitfall, and I think that’s at least part of where my frustration is coming from. It’s not what Bressie and Jim Breen are doing that’s the issue, it’s the media portrayal of it.

Both of them are talking about what they know, and they are both authentic, articulate, inspiring speakers. But what they know is a small piece of the puzzle.

The media (and this is all very much just my own opinion) can’t or won’t see beyond that. Mental illness isn’t just depression and suicide, in as much as physical illness isn’t just cancer. There are such a broad range of issues, and within that range, hugely varying degrees of severity and need. Every single person is different.

We could also be forgiven for thinking that difficulties only arise with the under 25s. Again, I’m not discounting the value of the work that’s being done here, god knows if I’d had more awareness when I was younger then things might have turned out very differently for me.

We absolutely need to get to kids when they’re in school, we absolutely need to work on breaking down the stigma around mental illness. I would love to think that this whole palaver with our mental health services is something my kids will never have to contend with.

But what about those who are over 25? Or even over 18? I posted a piece last week by a 17-year-old reader who faces a very uncertain future once she turns 18 and transitions from child and adolescent to adult services.

What about those of us who are that bit older, who aren’t hearing the message in school or college? Or those who don’t have ready access to social media? What about workplace mental health? Or those who aren’t working? And what about our older generations? Who is the voice for them?

I think that’s what my issue is. Both these men are giving voice to a particular section of the population, and they are doing it quite remarkably well. But, (and again, just me!!) there are two key issues with this:

  • This is a very sanitized version of mental illness,
  • There’s a glaring gap when it comes to the rest of us.

One of my readers posted this comment in response to my little rant, I think he sums it up nicely:

‘Thanks for saying this, Fiona. We are doing a mental health awareness programme at work and it is just about depression. Yes depression is a terrible thing but so are BPD, Bi-Polar, Schizophrenia, Anxiety, Eating Disorders, and every other mental illness. Surely we wouldn’t talk in terms of physical illness as being cancer? So why treat mental illness differently?’

‘As for celebs being the spokesperson for mental health, fine. But I would rather have as my spokesperson the woman who sat in the psychiatrist’s waiting room the other day; who had to bring her young child to the appointment because she couldn’t afford childcare; who told me how she had no idea how she was going to pay the electricity bill, let alone find money to do the grocery shopping; who was trying her hardest but who looked as if life had finally beaten her. This is the real face of mental illness’

Maybe it’s even more than that. Is it how we talk about it? The fact that we talk about ‘mental illness’. We would never say ‘I have a physical illness’. We’d say ‘I have the flu’. We’re making huge inroads in talking about it, but we’re still dancing around the edges.

I don’t know, I don’t know where I’m going at this stage. I’m tired, and I’m hugely frustrated by everything that’s happened with our mental health services on a national level, particularly in the last week, and on a personal level, for the last……….well, long time.

I just want to see open, honest, real conversation about this. About depression. About bipolar. About borderline. About schizophrenia. About all the other countless illnesses that affect us.

About people.

Mental health and the media (Sunny spells and scattered showers)

Fiona Kennedy on Broadsheet

26 thoughts on “Different Shades Of Blue

  1. A Certain Ratio

    Ah Jaysis,

    It’s Friday afternoon, just stick up a picture of the tenant class, dealing with their mental health with a few pints down the Barge.

  2. Bonkers

    Bressie has turned promoting mental health into his own little cottage industry by going around charging multinationals, banks and insurance companies €3,000 a pop for one of his talks. Which is more than he ever made as a musician. Cha-Ching !

      1. Kieran NYC

        Way to completely miss the point.

        It’s a triathlon for novices to encourage more people to take up running and fitness. It’s half the point of his website. He himself has done Ironman races.

        Trolling sap.

  3. Sheik Yahbouti

    Ah, look Fiona, any reasonable person is now getting a little weary of “Bressie”, assorted GAAAH heroes, and a few assorted others gaining airtime and at least z list celebrity on the back of, sadly, common disorders. Try not to fall into that trap yourself, though. In the meantime, keep on keeping on, young lady, and PLEASE don’t apologise for fair comment – destroys credibility.

  4. Kieran NYC

    He does portray solutions of the ‘Sure I went for a run and felt better’ variety.

    Which he got a TV show out of. And runs a website about.

    I’m not trying to say that he’s doing any of this out of anything other than the goodness of his heart, but it does seem to push the one ‘type’ of illness and solution all the time. Maybe he needs to insist on bringing other people with different stories into interviews in future?

      1. BlackRock Ronán

        Irish Runner Mag need to get some real runners on the front page.

        Like Rosanna Davison.

        1. Nigel

          I do like that on a piece about depression and mental health your responses are scorn and abuse, which as we know is a great way to help people dealing with depression and mental illness.

  5. Vinchenzoo

    Bressie’s serious, he’s even wearing his serious glass so he can be both serious and hot

  6. Enn

    My two cents…

    Fiona is right. Bressie is, in some ways, a good spokesman, because he represents the white straight sport-playing but repressed young man who cannot open up re mental illness – which is to say, one image of mental illness which is correct for some people but also quite photogenically convenient, and therefore promoted a lot. Who doesn’t feel for decant white sportsbloke who just needs to open up? Much more palatable then school-leaving glue-huffing boy who has opened up to everyone but finds there is very little available to you once you have opened up beyond band-aid actions by charities (which mean well but cannot actually hospitalise, carefully medicate, provide analysis and aftercare, etc.)

    Furthermore, Bressie and similar figures give us stories of depression defeated, wound up, or otherwise granted an end-point. We are seeing heroic cured survivor Bressie, not Bressie in pieces, cracking up publically – when we do see this happening to figures like Sinead O’Connor, or even Britney Spears (remember the head-shaving and car-crashing?), we laugh or mock. Sober blokeish Bressie offers the safe face of depression defeated. As Fiona says, this is nowhere near the reality for the BDP suffered or the bipolar sufferer or the non-white-sportsbloke person whose mental illness cannot be alleviated by ‘opening up’ because, amazingly enough, telling people you’re depressed or suicidal doesn’t stop you being depressed or suicidal. The powers that be simply tell you to ‘talk’, go for a walk, eat some f*cking fruit or whatever because the fact is, as Fiona’s writing abundantly show, they have fupp all in the way of credible treatment programs and actually provision for the care of people with mental health conditions.

    It would be interesting to see if the advent of Bressie et al has actually alleviated suicide statistics. Sadly I doubt it.

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