How times have changed for the better! Not too long ago mental health was a taboo subject. It was an area that was not talked about and unfortunately by not talking about our mental health adds to our suffering in silence. Today we have a World Mental Health Day - today, 10 October — to highlight the crucial importance mental well-being. 

At one time I was frightened to talk about my thoughts and feelings and of course that embedded the fear factor that mental ill health was scary.

As a young teenager, I visited my friend’s brother’s workplace which was a psychiatric hospital situated out in the country, high on a hill. My friend and I were told by his dad to stay in the car and not to get out, as his dad went off to deliver a message to his other son who was a nurse.

In our area (I’m not proud to say this) there were certain people who were labelled mad and that we, as kids, were to stay away from. Some of the locals taunted those who were labelled mad.

As my friend and I sat in the car we could see patients walk around the lawns and I was amazed at my curiosity as to who were these folk and why are we not allowed out of the car the same way as the patients weren’t allowed out of the hospital grounds. A a 14-year-old, I thought that this was insane.

When I enquired who they were, I was told that they were mad. That was my introduction as to what happens to you if you are mad—that you get locked away in a building you would see in a horror movie. That image stuck in my mind and planted the seed that I wanted to understand this so-called madness.

In our area (I’m not proud to say this) there were certain people who were labelled mad and that we, as kids, were to stay away from. Some of the locals taunted those who were labelled mad.

Ignorance abounded when it came to mental health. I also now know that alcoholism is a mental health problem. It was a taboo topic; one that was to be frowned upon and mocked in order to mask our fears. Hidden behind the mask of "I’m alright Jack, it’s all good." and "I don’t want to talk about it" because if I do you’ll call me mad and I will end up in the scary house on the hill.

Thank God that not the case today. We are blessed with so many charities to help alleviate our suffering. It appears to me that the talking therapies are the most successful.

In AA there’s a saying that we are only as sick as our secrets. I later found out through therapy that the secret is that there’s no secret — Zen is that statement.

That seed that was planted in my head way back in that car park began to grow in me some 30 years ago as I entered one of the first therapeutic communities here in Belfast which back then adopted a radical and revolutionary approach.

This was before care in the community. Talking therapies were used where you also had to have the gift of listening to the pain and suffering that others experienced. What we needed then was a compassionate heart. We must also remember that we were experiencing back then what was described as the Troubles which brought about what I would describe as a troubled mind.

The mind to me was the territory that was not being explored. Hence the silence and the code of ‘"say nothing" because nobody would understand and you would be locked up.

I believe it’s our fear of madness that drives us crazy. Most, if not all of our mental health problems are trauma based. A great leader in the world of trauma is Dr Gabor Maté who has written many good books on trauma. Two I would recommend are In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and the other is When the Body Says No. You can also watch Dr Maté on YouTube and I’m sure you’ll find him both interesting and enlightening as he talks about the things that we don’t talk about.

Think about it— I didn’t talk about my alcoholism nor wanted to talk about what was going on for me as I believed that alcohol was my medicine. But after a while the medicine didn’t work and then the medicine became the problem. When I met a community of people who were experts through experience they helped me talk about what I couldn’t talk about and my life changed 360 degrees.

There are many great charities now that address different experiences so please checkout what’s available to meet your needs and let’s start talking about mental health. We all now know today what we didn’t know back then: it’s good to talk. So let’s get talking.

You can start by emailing the charity I work with, Inspire.  

No candle’s light lessens, through lighting another.Keep er lit 🙏