Month: August 2015

Helping a Loved One With a Mental Illness

Dealing with a mental illness can be tough. Learning to accept it as a part of your life can be a struggle, and sometimes it seems like a constant uphill battle. But something that makes it that little bit easier, is having friends and family who try to understand, and do everything in their power to help you feel better. While it can be hard to fully understand what your loved one is going through when you’re not going through it yourself, there are lots of things you can do to aid their recovery. It’s the little things that count, and here are some simple tips that could make a huge difference.

Accept that they have an illness. Don’t patronise them by telling them “it’s just a phase” or that they’ll “get over it”, especially after they’ve had a medical professional diagnose them with a mental illness. While you may have thought it was nothing before, you now have proof that there really is something wrong, and all you can do now is accept it. More often than not, people are afraid to talk about their mental illness for fear of rejection from their friends and family. Show them that not everybody is like that, be that person that they can trust and confide in. They know that if they had a physical illness, acceptance wouldn’t be a problem, but show them that you’ll accept them no matter what the problem is.

Research and educate yourself on the illness. Whether it’s something more common like depression, or something you’re less familiar with like borderline personality disorder, make it your aim to learn about the illness. When a person is first diagnosed with an illness, it can be tiring and stressful telling people the same thing and answering the same questions over and over again. If you show that you have an understanding of an illness, it will make it easier for your loved one to open up to you. For example, if they’ve just been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and are having panic attacks, all it takes is for you to ask “And what happens when you’re having a panic attack? I read that they can cause shortness of breath and shaking” for the sufferer to think, “Yes! Somebody understands!” It might seem small, but it’s one less thing for them to explain to you. Knowing that you’ve made an effort to learn about the illness will help them to open up to you more.

Ask how you can help. Instead of just presuming that you know what to do from whatever research you’ve done, ask them if there’s any way that you can help. Of course you can incorporate what you’ve learned into this, but there might be something more specific and personal that helps your loved one out. After all, everyone is unique and we all deal with things differently. Just a simple text saying, “You looked a little down today. Is there anything I could do to help?” is showing them that you’re aware of what they’re going through and that you care.

Listen to them. Sometimes when your mental illness, whatever it is, has taken its toll on you and you’re having a bad day, all you need is somebody to talk to. What your loved one needs right now is a listener, not somebody who’ll butt in every five minutes with “Yeah that happened to me before but…” or “It’ll be fine as long as you…” Your friend or family member is in a state of distress, and you can’t be of any help to them unless you hear the full extent of how they’re feeling. Let them get everything off their chest, and then you can offer them your advice.mh6

Encourage them to try new treatment methods. Getting better can be a very slow and gradual process, and from herbal remedies to hypnotherapy it can all seem a bit much. If the medication they’re on isn’t working, encourage them to go back to their doctor to see if they can switch it up. Different medication works for different peo
ple, and sometimes it can take a while to find the one that’s best suited to you. Don’t let them give up, and keep reminding them that they will eventually find something that makes them feel better.

If you know someone with a mental illness, then I really hope this post has helped you see how you can help. If you have a mental illness yourself and your friends and family are struggling to understand, show them this. Whether you plonk the laptop in front of them on the kitchen table or just send them a link on Facebook, the chances are they’ll read it, and hopefully learn a thing or two.

Choose your words wisely. If you want to be a good friend, don’t say things like “cheer up” or “there’s people out there who have it worse”. Chances are, your loved one has heard this all a million times before, but does it help? No. If anything, saying something like this to a person with a mental illness will drive them further and further away from you, it will be clear to them that you don’t understand what they’re going through.


“I Wish I’d Been Told” – A Fresher’s Guide To College

So the CAO offers came out today, and I hope you’re all happy and not sobbing in a corner, hungover and tired from waiting up until 6am like I was. When I headed off to college, I’d just turned eighteen. I was the first in my family to go to college, and because I didn’t do transition year I had no older friends to advise me on the do’s and don’ts. So here’s a little guide for you fresher’s, on what I wish I’d been told when I was moving away to college.

I wish I’d been told to “Start as you mean to go on”. During fresher’s week I missed one sociology lecture, I’m not sure why, but after that it was a no go. If you miss lectures at the beginning, you’ll get into the habit of it and slowly but surely you’ll find yourself not going to college at all. And if you’re not really interested in your course, or you can’t motivate yourself to do the work at home, it can be really hard to catch up.

I wish I’d been told that the fresher’s fifteen is not a myth. I know what you’re all thinking, “I’m going to lose SO much weight in college because I’ll eat healthily when I’m cooking for myself” or “I won’t be able to afford food when I’m going out all the time”.. Wrong, so wrong. It’s hard to eat healthily when your college timetable is full of splits and the easiest thing to make and eat in ten minutes is microwavable pasta. And you can afford to eat, you can afford the 20c noodles from Aldi and not the €3 punnet of strawberries. Take it from the girl who gained two stone in three months, I know what I’m talking about. Learn to cook some healthy meals, limit the amount of takeaways you eat, and don’t go to the chipper after a night out.

I wish I’d been told that living facilities for students aren’t the best. Especially in first year, when it’s everyone’s first time away from home without their mother to clean up after them. Even when you’re in top class student accommodation, your floor will be constantly sticky from vodka and there’ll probably be mould growing in at least three places. Hope for the best, expect the worst. Someone will probably pee in the sink at one point too.

I wish I’d listened to the people who told me “Don’t shit where you eat”. Don’t get with someone from your course, and don’t get with someone that you’re living with. The awkwardness if it ends on bad or awkward terms is real. It’s probably not advisable to get with anyone living in your best friend’s house either. Or living next to your best friend’s house. Or anyone. Just don’t get with anyone. Stay away from them all.

I wish I’d been told not to get sick in a taxi. Now this has never happened to me, but I felt it was worthy of a mention. Living in the back end of nowhere, if you get sick in the back of a van you usually just hear “Ah for God’s sake!” and it’s done. Do that in the city, and you’ll have to pay a hefty fine of around €140. Ridiculous I know, but yeah, don’t get sick in a taxi. Oh and if you refuse to pay, they’ll probably call the guards.

I wish I’d been told not to buy books straight away. When we were given the list of books we needed, I went out and bought them immediately. Do you know how many I actually ended up reading? Zero. Only buy the essentials, you can always borrow the rest from friends, split the price between ye or find them in the library.

I wish I’d been told how great the support for students with mental health problems is in college. I was so worried when I’d miss tutorials over panic attacks, or needed an extension after getting myself up in a heap. Lecturers (at UL anyways) are very understanding and sympathetic towards the fact that you have a mental illness, and do all that they can to help. Whether it’s giving you an alternative assignment, or helping you out when you’ve fallen behind, the system is a lot better than the one in place in secondary school.

And finally, I wish I’d been told to make the most of my first year of college. Like everything, college is 100% what you make of it and it’s not all about the books. Meet new friends, go out, join clubs and societies, and don’t be afraid to be yourself. I had a wonderful first semester studying in UL, and I’m sure there’ll be many more to come. Good luck to you guys on this new chapter of your life, and make sure you enjoy it!

Castlepalooza – A Weekend of Magic, Madness and Mind-Blowing Memories

This year, Castlepalooza music and arts festival took place in Charleville Castle, Tullamore from July 31st to August 2nd, and what an amazing weekend it was.castlepalooza

Having previously been described as the “overall best festival” by the Irish Independent, I had high expectations for Castlepalooza. As the fourth festival I’ve attended this summer, it had a lot to be compared to. On their official website, they say “We promise you great music; merriment; magic; madness and mind-blowing memories” which is exactly what we got.

I had contemplated giving Castlepalooza a miss this year, saving up for college hadn’t exactly been going very well. But when I won four VIP tickets with boutique camping, as well as a festival makeover on Ireland AM, I’d have been a fool to say no. After my television debut (which I could definitely get used to) being made fabulous for the festival, it was time to head off to Tullamore.

castlepalooza4Because we’d won boutique camping, me and my friends got to stay in a 4×4 metre tipi, with a carpeted interior as well as air mattresses. Boutique camping usually works out around €33 per person per night, and if you have the money I’d definitely recommend it. Your festival experience is heightened knowing that you’re coming home to a big spacious tent – it was a lot better than trying to squeeze two girls and a six foot two lad into a two man pop up tent, which is what we had to do at Knockanstockan!

The festival site was a two minute walk from the campsite, and everything was close by. Although there wasn’t a huge amount of clothes stalls, the one that was there had a great variety of clothes, hats and wigs – what more could you want? At the Inticraft stall , the staff were helpful and friendly, and I’ll definitely buying some more festival gear off them at Electric Picnic.castlepalooza3

We preferred to take a break from drinking during the day, and used our time to explore what else Charleville Castle had to offer.  My favourite activity was definitely the mask painting, it brought out the inner four year old in just about everyone, and I don’t think I’ve concentrated on something as much since my leaving cert! As well as that you could make flower crowns, both of which were free. All you had to do was make a donation to the Berkeley fund if you could, which everyone was more than happy to help with. There were drum workshops, burlesque and yoga classes throughout the three days too.

When it came to food you were spoiled for choice, from Thai dishes to the ever popular curry cheese chips, there was something to suit everyone. After a weekend that consisted mainly of beer and Home Fries’ potatoes, I for one am a little scared to step on the weighing scales.

castlepalooza2Speaking of beer, that was the one thing that left me a little miffed at Castlepalooza. You weren’t allowed to bring in your own alcohol, but we were reassured that there’d be an off license on site and that they’d have great offers on at the bar. How very, very misleading. Their “off license” only sold two types of beer (San Miguel and Bavaria) as well as Dan Kelly’s Cider. These could only be bought in packs of 12 or 24, and the price? €50 for 24 cans of beer, and a whopping €70 for the equivalent of 24 cans of cider (twelve one litre bottles). And if you wanted to buy a bottle of wine at the bar, you were forking out another €23. Trying my luck to sneak in a naggin or two seems very appealing for next year…

And the most important part of any festival? The music! Music can really make or break the weekend and Castlepalooza had an unbelievable variety of genres. My personal favourites from the weekend were April Towers, Elephant, I Have A Tribe and of course Fight Like Apes who really stole the show. With more chilled out tunes during the day and dance music blaring until all hours at night, they got the balance perfect this year.castlepalooza6

One thing that I feel obliged to mention having spent 50% of my time there, is the Bavaria Bierhaus Tent. For house and techo lovers this tent was absolute bliss, and my legs are in serious pain from all the dancing I did there at the weekend. Sectioning off a tent specifically for this genre was a great move from Castlepalooza.

The friendly vibes and happy atmosphere made Castlepalooza simply amazing this year, and even with the constant rainy nights, nobody let it get them down. Out of Life, Sea Sessions and Knockanstockan, Castlepalooza is by far the best festival I’ve been to this summer. Good things come in small parcels, and I’ll definitely be back for more next year.

Dropping Out – When Mental Illness Becomes Too Much

A couple of weeks ago, the results of the National Student Survey were published, and there was one statistic that really stood out to me. Out of the 41.7% of students surveyed who thought about dropping out of college, the top reason for this was mental health concerns. I can’t say that this shocked me, but I thought it was something that needed to be talked about more. More often than not when we hear of somebody dropping out, we can roll our eyes and label them as “lazy”. But 99.9% of the time, this just isn’t the case.mh1

In my second semester of college, I had serious thoughts about dropping out. My anxiety was at an all-time high, to the point where I was barely leaving my bedroom. I’d lost interest in everything, going out was no longer fun and I was struggling to enjoy my lectures the way that I used to. I missed the comfort of my own home and all I wanted to do was go back to Mayo, for my mum to comfort me and remind me that things would be okay. After speaking to a counsellor in UL, I decided I’d take a leave of absence from college. But I was too afraid to say it to my parents, to my friends in college, to my friends back home, and soon the closing date for leave of absence submissions had passed.

mh4I stayed in college, and although it was a very tough semester I managed to get through it. Now my mental health is a lot better, I’m finally enjoying going out again and I’m writing more than ever, plus I can’t wait to go back to Limerick in September. But having experienced the turmoil that comes with making the decision on whether or not to drop out, I know just how hard it can be. Out of the 41.7% of students surveyed, the top reason for thinking about dropping out was mental health concerns. So I spoke to two students, one who dropped out of college, and one who dropped out of school, due to their mental health.

Hannah Murphy is an 18-year-old from Swords, in Co. Dublin. Last year, she started a History course in Trinity College, and ended up dropping out in February, which was ultimately the best decision for her health. Speaking about her mental health, Hannah says that there were concerns from a young age:

“I had a brief history of pyschosomatic illness when I was about ten or eleven, but I had ‘recovered’ fine. Despite being quite extroverted as a kid, it became the opposite at fifteen and I started getting pretty bad anxiety around most social situations, including school.” mh3

Having experienced panic during her leaving cert exams, Hannah didn’t do as well as she thought she would, and felt that this had a huge impact on her mindset going into college. She was disappointed that she didn’t get her dream course, and felt as though she had failed.

Her mental health issues had a huge impact on her college attendance, and Hannah says she skipped at least half of her lectures, sometimes arriving outside the door and backing out at the last minute. She left work until the very last minute, so that she was almost forced to do it. She says that this got even worse by the second semester, adding “By then I really just didn’t care anymore”.

mh2Hannah had contemplated dropping out from the very start, but it took her until February to come to her final decision. With the support of her parents, who knew just how much she was struggling, Hannah decided to leave college for the sake of her mental wellbeing.

Talking about the stigma attached to mental illness, Hannah acknowledges that it’s still there, although it’s now a different type of stigma to before: “I think it’s a case where most people will acknowledge mental illness and sympathize with it, but when actually directly confronted with it from a friend/family member it becomes something they don’t want to really face.”

Hannah isn’t surprised by the statistic from the NSS, and adds that the system kids and teenagers go through right before college isn’t one that breeds mindfulness and self-care very well.

Since dropping out, Hannah says that she’s doing a whole lot better. She’s now being medicated, and is still in therapy but is realising more and more that college wasn’t and still is not for her at the moment. She adds, “I’m not even sure what I want to do, so maybe when I’m a little older and stronger mentally I’ll go back.”

Amy Golden is a 19-year-old from Bonniconlon, Co. Mayo. She attended Gortnor Abbey secondary school, where she dropped out in the September of her leaving cert year due to the toll it was taking on her mental health. mh5

For as long as she can remember, Amy has suffered from depression and has been sent to child psychologists from the age of five. It was triggered again when she was in second year, after the sudden death of somebody she knew, and what continued was a downward spiral for Amy’s mental health. It got to the point where she had to be hospitalised for two months at the end of 2014, after being admitted with self-harm injuries and suicidal thoughts. During her stay, Amy was finally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Dropping out of school was a difficult decision for Amy, but the mere thought of her leaving cert created stress and led to her self-harming. She reflects back on her final day of school, when she’d hit a breaking point: “The bus had just started, and I could feel this pain in my stomach. I could feel the tears coming, and my arms started to pulse and itch for me to harm myself again. I didn’t take any heed, and when I got to school I went straight to the toilet and bawled my eyes out, and then I self-harmed.”

Although she knew deep down that she needed to drop out, it was hard to come to that final decision. Amy knew it was the best thing she could do for herself, and adds, “if I did stay in school, I would have definitely have been dead By October.”

mh6Like many people who drop out, Amy was petrified about what her friends and family would think, “All I could hear in my head was people saying, ‘She’s only going to go on the dole and do nothing with her life,’ or think that I was a complete waster.” Luckily for Amy, her family were very supportive, and did all they could to learn about her mental illness. However her ordeal also separated the true friends from the fake ones, and many chose not to stick around.

Amy agrees that there’s still a stigma attached to mental illness, and recalls on one particular incident where a family member wasn’t exactly supportive, “I’ve had a family member of mine tell her friends that I was in hospital for a bad tummy bug, because she didn’t want to put up with the ‘shame’ of being related to someone who was ‘mental’.”

Amy feels that there’s nowhere near enough support for students with a mental illness in schools, and says that on a scale of one to ten, she’d give it a three. She adds that a talk about mental health in SPHE for a day or two is not substantial.mh7

Since making the tough but necessary decision to leave school, Amy’s mental health is stable. She’s currently on a high dose of anti-depressants, and sees a clinical psychologist every few months. But it’s still an uphill battle for Amy, who was supposed to receive Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) months ago, which was put on hold when her psychologist went on maternity leave. Her psychologist is the only one in Mayo who specialises in Borderline Personality Disorder, and Amy says the wait has held her back in more ways than one, “I cannot do anything until I start DBT, as it basically gives me life skills, which I need to continue in education or work. There isn’t enough resources for me to even meet someone once a week to speak to while I wait.”

However, Amy recognises that she’s come a long way since September 2014, and adds, “It gets better. Not quickly, but step by step.”

Next time you hear of somebody dropping out of school or college, don’t be so quick to judge. There are many reasons that people leave education early, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t return to it. When you could potentially lose a grant, or even a scholarship, dropping out is no easy decision, but sometimes it’s one that just has to be made. If someone dropped out of college due to a physical illness, there’d be no questions asked. Your mental health is more important than anything, and if you need to take a year out to look after it, then that’s what you need to do.