The Positive Pensive

An anxious pessimist tries to find the positive
Headphones on a microphone stand

Sinead O’Connor highlights the uncomfortable reality of mental health

Yesterday, I saw Sinead O’Connor trending on Twitter and thought the worst. After Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, I wondered whether I was about to find out there had been another high-profile suicide.

I was relieved to see that wasn’t case – but it wasn’t far off. Sinead had uploaded a Facebook live video where she talks at length about the state of her mental health. Throughout, it’s clear she’s in great distress as she talks about the various mental illnesses she’s living with, feeling suicidal and the ongoing familial issues.

“I hope that this video is somehow helpful,” she begins. “Not actually to me – but the fact I know I’m one of millions and millions and millions of people in the world that are just like me, actually”.

What follows is 12 minutes of unflinching honesty. At times, it’s uncomfortable. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s so incredibly raw. All of this makes it absolutely necessary viewing for us to begin to understand what it feels like to deal with mental illness alone.

Suicide: the taboo

It’s the topic no-one seems to want to talk about or address. Even as someone who spends a lot of time reading and writing about mental health, it’s a subject I’m yet to tackle properly on this blog.

According to research by the Samaritans, over 6,000 people in the UK took their own lives in 2015. Female suicide rates are at their highest in a decade and male rates are three times as high as females.

The fact is, it’s an epidemic.

When news broke recently of Chester Bennington’s suicide, the world mourned. An enormous outpouring of love and admiration from fans and other musicians alike dominated the news. Chester’s lyrics captured what so many people felt on a daily basis – to hear of his suicide was a crushing blow to many. How could a man who seemingly had it all carry out such a task?

In her video, Sinead makes an acute observation: “Mental illness is a bit like drugs, it doesn’t give a shit who you are. Equally what is worse is that the stigma doesn’t give a shit who you are.”

And therein lies the problem.

It’s okay to talk – but is it really?

With mental health becoming increasingly more talked about, you might be feeling pretty positive about it all. There are dedicated campaigns, charities and movements – from Okay to Say and ‘U OK M8?’ to ‘Time to Talk’ and Heads Together.

It goes without saying that this is obviously brilliant stuff. The more mental health becomes a normal thing to talk about, the better.

But if Sinead O’Connors’ video has shown anything, it’s that there’s still a hell of a lot of work to be done. While there were plenty of people applauding her bravery and sympathising, there were those quick to cry ‘attention seeking’, or simply be vitriolic.

A Twitter posts insinuates Sinead O'Connor had her breakdown to sell albums

So while previously countries wished their idols might have spoke out, we have a fine example of exactly why those suffering are afraid to do just that.

I don’t have any answers. Better – or even compulsory – mental health education in schools would be a good start, and I’ve written at length about mental health in the workplace. There is a long way to go.

If you haven’t watched Sinead’s video, I’d recommend you do. There are moments where you want to say ‘It’ll be okay’. There are others where you may even think she has brought some of her pain on herself. Welcome to the complexity of mental health – it’s hard to challenge your own preconceptions.

And if it’s difficult to watch it, imagine being the person living with it.

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