Niall Breslin tells of great epidemic unhinging mental health

Oireachtas group hears of mounting expectations and pressure on young generation

Mental health issues are the "great epidemic of this generation" that can no longer be ignored, musician and campaigner Niall Breslin told the Oireachtas Health Committee on Thursday.

Breslin, also known as Bressie, said he was speaking so young people could get help when they needed it and not suffer in silence.

“They are exposed to too much. So much is expected from them and both the external and internal pressures they are being asked to cope with are simply not sustainable. And the result is the great epidemic of this generation,” he said.

“Agonising suicide rates, disturbingly high anxiety and depression rates, self-harm, eating disorders, OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder] . . . We simply cannot ignore this anymore.”


The singer shared his own personal struggles as a teenager dealing with anxiety.

“Crippling insomnia, harrowing panic attacks and incomprehensible self-harm dictated my life,” he said.

“It was let grow into a monster, a monster that fed on silence, fear and lack of understanding.”

Breslin told the committee that policy was not good enough to help people suffering from mental health problems.

“The idea of a teenager having to be driven half way across the country after waiting two months for a referral is completely unacceptable,” he said.

“Everyone in this room has to be painfully honest with each other and accept that our mental health services and systems are not even close to being adequate or resourced for the demand and requirement that is put upon them.”

“It’s a matter of joining the dots and building something together that can give our youth the support they require to survive in this often chaotic world.”

Ireland is going through a transitional period as people are talking about mental health and emotional wellbeing, said Breslin.

“The draconian stigma that has ravaged families throughout Ireland for generations is slowly eroding,” he said.

“We have gradually commenced normalising the conversation surrounding our mental health and this must be promoted, nurtured and celebrated at every level.”

He spoke of Caoilte Ó Broin, whose body was found in the river Liffey earlier this month.

“Many times his family tried to access help but they were refused because this young man was consuming alcohol and told he couldn’t be helped because of his drinking, which was intrinsically linked to his mental health illness,” he said.

“This family don’t want to play the blame game, or point fingers, they simply want change.

“We need to ask hard questions. Those stories are too common. So many people wanted to help this young man, but their hands were tied by bureaucracy and lack of resource.”

“We have to be honest and ask ourselves, truly are we doing enough?”

Dr Paul D’Alton, head of the Psycho-oncology department St Vincent’s University Hospital, also addressed the committee. He said over the last three decades there was increasing evidence a “whole system” approach was needed to improve mental health.

“As long as we continue to seek a solution in one particular department or in one particular service the HSE provide, such as the mental health services, we are destined to repeat the annual national tragedy of more than 500 lives lost to suicide,” he said.

Dr D’Alton said every person in the State wanted radical change for the wellbeing and mental health of people.

“We need to be very cautious of an insidious mentality that places excessive responsibility for wellbeing and mental health in the hands of the individual,” he said.

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty is an Irish Times journalist