Healthy Town: Getting our heads together

It is estimated that 450,000 people in Ireland experience depression at some stage in their lives, but just talking about the problem can help a lot

Healthy Town

Being active every day, something as simple as a walk, is proven to have a positive impact on your mood. Photograph: Getty Images


Physical ailments are often easy to spot and finding the right cure can just be a matter of visiting the GP. But mental health issues are much more complex as they can be difficult to diagnose until the sufferer realises that they need to seek help.

This is why it is so important for everyone to be aware of their mental health – to understand that it plays a very important role in our lives.

Brid O’Meara is the director of services at Aware. She says everyone has mental health issues at some point in their lives, so it is very important that we talk about our feelings and deal with anything which is bothering us before it becomes a bigger problem. 

“Mental health impacts on every aspect of our lives - our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviours, our sleep patterns, our energy levels, our relationships and our work or school life - so taking care of our mental health is crucial,” she says. 

“We know that early intervention ensures more positive outcomes – it can shorten the duration and reduce the severity of an episode and it can prevent unnecessary mental distress and isolation. Everybody has periods in their lives which are challenging and some people can cope better than others during these times. The most important thing is to be able to seek help when you need it and to know where to seek it. Learning skills to manage the cards life deals us with, helps us to manage during these periods and also helps us to build resilience.”

It is estimated that 450,000 people in Ireland experience depression and the condition is now recognised by the World Health Organisation as the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. 

On top of this figure, 45,000 people in Ireland are diagnosed with bipolar disorder and there are also many other issues which affect mental health including anxiety, psychosis, schizophrenia, addiction and eating disorders.

And while society has got better at talking about mental health, there is still a lot of reluctance and hesitation around admitting that help is needed – but experts say this needs to change in order to ensure people get the support they require, as quickly as possible.

“Stigma is not something that one can change overnight,” says Brid O’Meara of Aware. “But I believe that every time mental health is normalised and promoted, it assists in reducing stigma. Having services available to people where they can talk, be heard and understood, and signposted in the right direction, are all positive steps towards reducing stigma.

“And there are a number of approaches to managing depression (and other mental health issues), depending on the individual and their presentation – these include lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet, incorporating exercise into one’s life, staying connected, talk therapy and medication.”

The WHO has reported an 18 per cent increase in people living with depression between 2005 and 2015, but this it isn’t clear whether or not, the number of people with depression has increased or simply that more people are seeking help.

During the Pfizer Healthy Town initiative, advice and support will be available to the inhabitants of Tullamore to help them understand their mental health and change their lifestyle in order to benefit both mind and body.

Brid O’Meara of Aware. “Having services available to people where they can talk, be heard and understood, are all positive steps towards reducing stigma.”
Brid O’Meara of Aware. “Having services available to people where they can talk, be heard and understood, are all positive steps towards reducing stigma.”

And throughout the year, mental health organisations and the HSE are always on hand to offer support.

“At Aware, we provide services for people experiencing depression and bipolar disorder,” says Brid O’Meara. “People can also visit aware.ie where we provide information about the symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder for the public, for example, we use the acronym FESTIVAL to describe the symptoms of depression:

eeling - sad, anxious, guilty, hopeless

nergy - low energy, feeling tired or fatigued

leeping - under or over-sleeping, waking frequently, change to your normal pattern

hinking - poor concentration, thinking slowed down

nterest - loss of interest in hobbies, family or social life, things that normally give you pleasure

alue - low self-esteem

ches - with no physical basis; such as chest, head or tummy pain associated with anxiety or stress

oss of interest - in living, thinking about death, suicidal thoughts

We recommend that if a person is experiencing 5 or more of these symptoms for 2 weeks or more, they contact their GP.

Looking after your mental health

  • Keeping active – being active every day, something as simple as a walk is proven to have a positive impact on your mood
  • Talking about your problems – problems feel smaller when they are shared with others, without having to be solved or fixed. Just talking about it will do you good
  • Looking out for others – lending an ear to someone else in trouble, or catching up with someone who seems distant, can change their day, or their lives. You don't have to fix it for them - just listening is a huge help
  • Doing things with others – taking part in a group activity that you enjoy is proven to have a positive impact on how you feel, be it a game of football, joining a choir, volunteering
  • Eating healthily – a regular healthy, balanced and nutritious diet will help both your physical, but also your mental health, and have a positive impact on how you feel
  • Staying in touch – catching up with friends and family is good for our mental health, reminding us that we're part of a community, and having a positive impact on how we feel
  • Drinking less alcohol – for the average Irish drinker, reducing alcohol will have a positive impact on their health and mental wellbeing, making it easier to cope with day to day difficulties and stresses
  • Sleeping well – getting a good night's sleep of 7 or 8 hours, as often as you can, will have a positive impact on how you feel. Protect your sleep if you can, it will do you good.

For more, visit www.aware.ie and www.yourmentalhealth.ie 

For more on Healthy Town, see www.facebook.com/HealthyTownIreland