A breath of fresh air on World Mental Health Day

We would all be better off if we would only stop and take the time to understand ourselves and our mental health – and if we just took a moment to breathe.

We would all be better off if we would only stop and take the time to understand ourselves and our mental health – and if we just took a moment to breathe.

This was the inspiring message from Dr Fergus Heffernan, one of three speakers at a reception hosted by Mayor David Fitzgerald in City Hall for World Mental Health Day on Monday.

The human body is like a car, Mr Heffernan told a room full of those who work and volunteer in the realm of mental health. Unlike a car, however – which most drivers diligently look after with regular checks and repairs – such care for the body isn’t often as much of a priority, he said.

Despite years in school learning about the world past and present, “the irony is how little we know about ourselves,” he said in a dynamic talk.

Really, Dr Heffernan said, people should learn to know their psychological, physical, biological, emotional and spiritual sides – the latter being perhaps the most vital.

And by ‘spiritual’, he said, he meant not just religion but someone to turn to for guidance or assurance.

To illustrate this, he spoke of a 16-year-old boy he once met, and when he asked the boy whether he ever had suicidal thoughts, the reply was: “Every day when I wake up, I want to be dead by nighttime.”

Yet, asked what stopped him, he said it came down to a photograph of his granny who had died and a set of her rosary beads – with which he asked every night for her to watch over him and help him get through the next day.

“That is why he is alive today,” Dr Heffernan said. “He had a place to go.”

Having a place to go – in the community rather than in a hospital or residential care – was the focus of the talk by Dr Frank Kelly, head of the department of psychiatry at St Luke’s Hospital. Outlining some of the work that has been done locally towards this aim, he pointed to the removal two weeks ago of the last remaining patients from St Dymphna’s Hospital in Carlow. “It was the first time since 1820 that there were no long-stay patients in St Dymphna’s,” he noted.

Kilkenny coroner Tim Kiely highlighted as well that suicide and mental health issues are not limited to any one sector of society, as he sees cases of women and men, young and old, employed and unemployed, single and married. What they seemed to have in common, however, was a sense of isolation and detachment.

“If there is one message from today,” he said, “we have to encourage everybody to communicate and everybody to understand that problems do exist in everybody’s life and hopefully they are not insurmountable. With everybody’s help, at least some people may not take that course of action.”