She has clinical depression and borderline personality disorder.
I had an article published here a few weeks back, in which I expressed my frustration at what I perceive to be the very sanitised view the general media presents to us about mental health.
Following on from this, I wrote a similar article for the Irish Times, stating:
“My concern is that the current media representation of these (mental health) issues is in danger of doing the subject more harm than good by having a really restricted focus in terms of how mental health problems manifest, who they affect, and how they are managed.”
Immediately after the articles I was contacted to do both TV and radio interviews which, after much consideration, I had to decline.
I knew that while I would get great energy from doing them, and it would possibly help take the national conversation about mental health a little further, it would also knock the stuffing out of me and the fallout for me personally wouldn’t be worth the whatever slim gain may have been made.
I realise there’s a massive irony in this – I gave out that media representations of mental health issues are very one sided, yet when given the opportunity to do something about it, I had to say no or my mental health would suffer.
On a whim, I recorded the video above.
I cannot currently give live interviews, and there’s little I can do to affect change around mental health policy in Ireland.
But, I’ve been writing about trying to manage borderline personality disorder (bpd) and depression for years, so what I can do is attempt to show you the reality behind the words.
None of these vlogs are scripted, rehearsed or edited in any way. They’re mostly recorded in my car because it feels like a really safe place to do them, if a little dull visually, and are short – generally between one and three minutes.
I tend to think a lot when I’m driving, and it helps to record my thoughts this way on a day that I may not get time to write.
What you see is how I am – I don’t usually wear make-up, and I often look extremely tired and/or spotty.
This is my reality.
I’ve never sugarcoated my writing so I’m not going to sugarcoat these.
Fiona is an Ambassador for See Change, a national movement that tries to improve attitudes towards people with mental health issues, and she blogs here
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.
You may recall how Fiona Kennedy, who has clinical depression and borderline personality disorder, wrote a piece last Wednesday.
It detailed how, after waiting eight months to begin dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) at the Adult Mental Health Services at Galway University Hospital, the mother-of-two was told the treatment would not be provided because of a lack of resources at the hospital.
On Friday, Fiona, from Connemara, Co. Galway, launched a crowd funding campaign to allow her access DBT.
Within 24 hours, she received enough money to fund almost a year of private therapy.
Further to this, Fiona has written the following open letter to all general election candidates.
I did something yesterday that I never, in a million years, would have considered I’d have to do. I went looking for money from complete strangers. Why? Because of the phenomenal shambles that is our public mental health service.
I have borderline personality disorder (BPD) and depression, and have been blogging about both for years now. I have a good following on Facebook, and have received an unbelievable level of support from both platforms over the years, particularly during the last few months which have been incredibly tough.
Last week, I was told that a treatment that has been promised for months by the HSE (dialectical behaviour therapy/DBT) will not be going ahead. I can’t begin to describe the impact that this had on me, and on my family.
We had pinned all our hopes on this, as I have tried every other avenue I could to get to grips with BPD. We’re out of options, the only alternative left is to access private therapy.
The cost of attending a private clinical psychologist is immense, and it’s money that I simply do not have – I’ve been attending public services for years for a reason.
We found a psychologist who is able to offer exactly what I’m looking for, and has the capacity to take me on now, but there’s the not-so-insignificant factor of fees to be considered. After a lot of soul searching, we decided to try crowdfunding.
The response to this has been phenomenal.
In less than 24 hours, I’ve been given enough to fund almost a year of private therapy. The generosity of those who have donated has left me absolutely speechless.
This will quite literally change my life, and that of my family, it’s just incredible. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I genuinely feel like I’m going to be able to get a handle on all this.
My husband looks brighter than I’ve seen him in years. This money will give us so much more than just therapy, it will give us back our future.
However, while I’m beyond grateful, I’m also really angry. I should never have been put in the position of having to ask for money.
Treatment was promised, time and again, by the HSE. It’s such an indictment of our health services that this is how it has turned out, and at a time when we’re constantly hearing about keeping the recovery going. Mere days from the election, promises are still being broken.
I also realise how lucky I am to have been able to raise this money – between the blog and Facebook, I have people who are very familiar with my situation ready to help in any way they can.
What about the others who were promised DBT? What are they going to do? And this is just one programme, in one area. How many other programmes won’t be going ahead? How many other people are waking up today feeling like they have no hope left, no future?
If you’ve never felt that, you can’t begin to understand how terrifying it is, and I’m glad for those of you who just can’t identify with it. But for those who can – what will be done? Mental health is way down the priority list of so many of you, but this is not something that can be ignored any longer.
People are dying. When you’re already hanging on by your fingernails and hope is taken away, it’s far too easy to let go. This has got to stop.
Services have got to be more than just improved, they have to be completely overhauled. The way forward is clear, Mental Health Reform have done huge work in highlighting the changes that are needed. Why has it proven so impossibly hard to make those changes happen? What else will it take?
You have the opportunity now to make a real, lasting difference. There is so much kindness and energy in the country, people not only want to see change, they want to be part of making it happen.
So please, please, for all our sakes, and even more so for those who’ve been left struggling alone, do what needs doing.
Yours sincerely, and on behalf of everyone who needs help,
Those who wish can donate to Fiona’s fund here or read her blog here
Last month, Fiona Kennedy wrote about the barriers she faces when trying to access mental health services.
She has clinical depression and borderline personality disorder.
Today Fiona, who lives in Connemara, Co. Galway, writes:
Eight months ago, I was recommended to stop working with the private therapist I had been seeing for six years, and was put on a waiting list for dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) at the Adult Mental Health Services of Galway University Hospital.
DBT is recognised internationally as being the most effective therapeutic intervention in managing the symptoms of a particularly debilitating mental illness known as borderline personality disorder (BPD), which I was diagnosed with two years ago.
In the last eight months, my situation has gone from barely managed damage limitation, to the point of almost complete mental breakdown. Within three months of finishing with my therapist, I was signed out of work on sick leave as I was no longer able to function effectively. I am regularly suicidal, and self-harm is part of my reality.
When I’m at my worst, however maladaptive it is, it helps me cope. My world has gotten very, very small. I drop my kids to school, I do bits and pieces around the house on the days that I can.
Sometimes I’m able to handle being around people, others I’m not. Those days are particularly tough, those are the ones where I hang on by my fingernails.
But, dragging us through all of this difficulty was the promise of eventually getting onto a treatment programme that would help me to turn it all around.
My family and I have spent the last eight months putting all our hope in DBT. Today, just weeks before the anticipated start date, I’ve been told that it’s not actually going to go ahead at all, because the hospital does not have the resources to provide the programme.
They’ve lost six out of ten therapists from the DBT team, and they have not been replaced. I don’t know where to begin to describe how I feel right now, because the words I have aren’t big enough. Angry, disappointed, let down – they don’t come close. I’m absolutely gutted.
I always had my doubts as to whether or not DBT would go ahead as I’ve been fighting with the extremely under resourced public mental health services for years, but I still can’t quite believe it has genuinely come to this.
I’ve waited eight months. I’ve been told time and again that this is the best thing for me, the only thing that really helps with bpd. To have that hope taken away at the 11th hour is unspeakably cruel.
I realise that this is not my psychiatrist’s fault, and I do genuinely believe that she has done everything in her power to make this happen for me, but right now, that does nothing to change the fact that I’m further than I’ve ever been from getting the help I need.
How is this fair?
We are weeks from an election, and yet services are falling into a worse state than ever before. The therapists who have been lost from the DBT team are not likely to be replaced.
My fear, aside from the obvious impact that not getting DBT will have on me personally, is that the whole programme will just be let slide, will fall way down the list of priorities, and will eventually be dropped.
I’m only one of countless numbers who will be impacted by this, because this goes way beyond the individual. The difficulties of living with and supporting someone struggling with a mental illness are often overlooked, but the impact is very real.
Not getting DBT doesn’t just affect me, it affects my entire family.
I wonder do the powers-that-be know the unique sense of utter hopelessness that comes with being told that your last available option is in fact no longer available?
I want to be angry right now, but I can’t summon up the energy. I’m swinging so fast between moods and emotions that I’m almost meeting myself on the way back.
One of the key features of BPD is emotional dysregulation, which means we find it very hard to maintain a stable mood and can swing from elation to the depths of depression and back again several times on any given day, never mind a day when I’ve been hit with such a phenomenal disappointment. It’s exhausting. I have a headache from crying and am having to work incredibly hard not to let myself be utterly defeated by this
Mental health services in Ireland are in a state of absolute chaos, there simply aren’t the resources available to provide the help that is so desperately needed.
How has it come to this?
How have we reached a point where people with devastating mental illnesses are being told that there is no help available?
Mental illness can kill, and worse, it does kill.
It needs to be taken every bit as seriously as physical illness, and the resources have got to be put back before more lives are lost.
Fiona is an Ambassador for See Change, a national movement that tries to improve attitudes towards people with mental health issues, and she blogs here
Fiona Kennedy lives in Connemara, Co. Galway. She has clinical depression and borderline personality disorder.
I am so angry right now I am literally shaking. I probably shouldn’t write when I’m this wound-up, but I have to do something because I cannot carry this anger around for the day, not on top of all the other emotion that’s currently going on.
I have been banging my head off a brick wall, metaphorically and at times literally, for months now. The last week has been horrendous. I went to my doctor yesterday because I had to talk to someone and I had literally nowhere else to go. There was nothing he could say, nothing he could do, other than give me space to vent and try and chase the hospital to get a definite answer on dbt for me.
My husband is scared, and worn out. There’s only so many times he’s going to be able to talk me down off a ledge before he cracks too. My parents have been on the receiving end of more than one distress call. My friends don’t believe me when I tell them I’m going home. I have told my psychiatrist I want to be dead. I’ve told my doctor. For fuck sake, I’ve called my husband at work and told him. How is this fair? How have we been left in this situation? I drafted a piece the other day which I had hoped to get published but no one is biting, so here it is. I would be grateful if you could share this as far as you can, because enough is enough.
I do not deserve to be treated like this. My family do not deserve to be treated like this. My friends should not have to pick up the pieces, over and over and over again. I need my life back. But I cannot do it alone. We cannot do it alone. None of you should have to do it alone either.
We are making huge progress as a society when it comes to talking about mental health, huge. Slowly but surely, the stigma that surrounds it is being chipped away.
There are several well-established national campaigns encouraging people to talk, and these are getting a bigger response year on year. It’s fantastic to see. So where’s the caveat? I write from my own experience. I’m not a mental health professional, but I’ve spent years in the public mental healthcare system in Ireland, and that is where the caveat comes in. No more than any other illness, there are varying degrees of severity when it comes to mental illness, and I think that’s where the problems arise.
Yes, it’s ok to ask for help. Seeking support is the first step towards addressing any mental health difficulty. But what about when that help is not forthcoming? What about when a call to a helpline, or a trip to the GP, is not enough? What about when professional support is needed?
The barriers are immense. First, there’s the cost. Let’s suppose I don’t need psychiatric support, but I very much need to speak to a therapist. However, I’m on a low income. Barrier number 1. I need therapy, but unless I can access a low cost service (which may still be too expensive depending on the scale they use) it’s not an option that’s open to me, so I’ve to find a way to manage on my own.
The impact that this can potentially have is far reaching. I may find myself unable to work, further compounding the financial situation and increasing the stress, which in itself has a knock-on effect on whatever the original issue was… you can see how quickly this can spiral out of control.
Let’s take it a step further. I’ve been to my GP, I’ve been fortunate enough to access therapy, but the situation still isn’t improving. I need psychiatric assessment. Barrier number 2. I have two choices – take my chances with the public system, or pay to see someone privately.
Going privately was never an option for me, so I can tell you about the public system. In the first instance, unless there’s an emergency trip to A&E, it will most likely involve a lengthy wait, and once I get in, I will be seen by a consultant.
Thereafter, I will be seen by a member of the team working under said consultant. The lack of continuity that goes hand-in-hand with this approach – new doctors at almost every appointment, trying to explain the same issues over and over again, varying opinions – is heartbreakingly frustrating.
I’m lucky that in recent months I’ve seen my consultant at every appointment for which I’m ridiculously grateful but, prior to this, there were years of rotating doctors asking me to rate my mood over the previous number of months on a scale of 1 to 10.
Given that my mood can shift dramatically a number of times in any single day, that’s a question that’s both impossible to answer and profoundly unhelpful. Again, I must emphasise that I’m writing from my own experience, and I’m at the more severe end of the scale in terms of mental illness. But, I’m far from being the only one.
Barrier number 3. Private therapy isn’t an option. I’ve made it through psychiatric assessment and a very specific form of therapy is recommended. But, there’s a waiting list. A lengthy one, with no guarantee of when a place will be available.
So what do I do in the meantime? I dig in. I hang on. I have no one left to tell that I’m not ok, because I’ve followed every avenue that I can. My bad days are horrendous. My bad days I quite literally fight for my life.
Yet I’m aware that I’m still one of the lucky ones. I have good friends, and a loving, supportive family who do the very best they can for me, but it’s not enough. More than that, it’s not fair to expect that to be enough. I don’t want to detract from the incredible work that is being done to get people talking about mental health. It’s absolutely vital, and I’m confident countless lives will change for the better because of it. It’s ok not to be ok?
Of course! It’s OK to ask for help? Undoubtedly, and it is 110% the right thing to do. It does somewhat work on the assumption that help is both available and accessible though. That’s the caveat right there. From my perspective at least, it’s quite a big one.
Fiona is an Ambassador for See Change, a national movement that tries to improve attitudes towards people with mental health issues.