Cork writer: I battled mental health issues... but help is out there

The 10th annual Green Ribbon Campaign has just launched. COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to a Cork ‘ambassador’ for the event, who explains how his own experience of mental health issues has changed his mindset
Cork writer: I battled mental health issues... but help is out there

Daragh Fleming at the launch of the annual Green Ribbon Campaign in Mallow last week

WHEN Daragh Fleming’s best friend died by suicide ten years ago at the age of 18, it led to mental health difficulties for him.

Daragh, a 27-year-old Cork writer who works in communications for mental health charity, ‘A Lust for Life’, went through a depressed period followed by numbness as a reaction to the suicide. He felt guilty for feeling depressed, given that his friend “didn’t have the chance to live anymore. I had no idea that he was depressed.”

Since then, Daragh has been on a voyage of self-discovery and is an ambassador for the tenth annual Green Ribbon Campaign for the month of September, initiated by See Change.

See Change is the national programme dedicated to ending the stigma and discrimination that often surrounds mental health. It’s a programme of Shine that provides support and education for people affected by mental health difficulties.

The public is invited to wear a Green Ribbon (www.seechange.ie/greenribbon/) to show others that they are willing to talk about mental health. See Change wants to remind everyone that you don’t have to be an expert to start a conversation. The theme for this year’s campaign is ‘shame’. The key message is that there is no shame in having a mental health difficulty.

As Daragh says, his friend must have felt shame in that he felt he couldn’t open up about what he was feeling. The pair met for lunch the day Daragh’s friend ended his life. There was no indication anything was wrong.

Men often find it harder than women to talk about their feelings. 

“In our society, men are meant to be stoic and strong,” says Daragh. 

“Strength is seen as being emotionless. I don’t think that’s an accurate meaning of where strength comes from. (Strength) should be about admitting you need help. I think men struggle with that.”

Daragh says the numbness he developed meant he couldn’t feel anything. 

“That went on for about three years. I didn’t think anything was wrong. But it all came to a head one night during college. I had a huge panic attack on the street. I was surrounded by loads of people. We were going into a nightclub. It was very scary because your body acts as if you’re under attack. There was a lot of sweating, your heart beat is up to ninety, you can’t really catch your breath and the knees go weak. I had no idea what it was but my friends did and they kind of coached me through it. It hasn’t happened too often since and it’s getting easier to manage.”

The next day, Daragh admitted to himself he was struggling. He signed up for free counselling at UCC and was on a waiting list for two weeks. 

“The biggest improvement in my life was admitting I needed help. That was a huge weight off my shoulders. I no longer had to keep things inside.”

For six months, he attended counselling and “got to a place where I was able to manage my mental health. Now, if I get to a point where I feel my mental health is (in trouble), I go back for three or four sessions of counselling just to steady the boat. Even if you’re not struggling with mental health problems, counselling is a really good way to facilitate growth as a person and to understand yourself better.”

Daragh, who chose not to take medication for his ‘moderate depression’ says that the government doesn’t take mental health seriously enough. “CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and Psychiatry Ireland are leaning on the government to double the mental health budget. At the moment, only 5% of the public health budget is given to mental health which is obscene. It should get a lot more funding.”

While there are a lot of organisations doing really good work around mental health in this country, they are, says Daragh, bridging a gap that the government should be filling.

He describes himself as “passionate” about mental health. He has an award-winning blog called Thoughts too Big. Working for ‘A Lust For Life’ suits him as he gets to write about mental health for social media and communications in his day job.

With a chapbook of poetry recently published, Daragh is working on a collection of essays. Entitled Lonely Boy, it’s coming out in November. He is also working on a short story collection, some of which have already been published in literary magazines.

The essays deal with mental health. 

“They go from fear of death to production anxiety. They’re based on my own experience.”

How does he feel about baring his soul in print? “My blog has been very raw and honest for the last six years when I started it. It would have been very nerve-wracking and stressful at first but now it feels like something I do all the time. A book is a different beast so there is a bit of apprehension. There’s stuff in the book that some of my friends and family have never even heard. But I’m mainly excited for people to read it.”

It’s all part of getting rid of the stigma around mental health.

“I’m not surprised there’s still stigma. What’s hopeful is that it’s less than what it was ten years ago. But societal changes don’t happen overnight. I think it will take maybe a generation. You can already see it with the younger generation, the 15 to 25 year olds. They are far more open. In another ten years, there will be less stigma,” says Daragh.

For more on the See Change campaign, see www.seechange.ie /green-ribbon/ or follow See Change on social media

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