1 in 5 people in Ireland have experienced a mental health problem. I'm one of them. Let's talk about it.
A few years ago, my friend Bronagh invited me to an evening with author Marian Keyes at the Smock Alley Theatre. The venue was filled to the gills with her much-loved readers, and the vivacious Keyes, interviewed by TV3's Sinead Desmond, spoke at length about her books, her husband, 'Himself,' and her writing process.
She also spoke, with much tender care, about her struggle with mental illness.
What I didn't know at the time was that Keyes went through an extended period of depression, one which she described in such vivid, unglamourous detail that I gasped at the familiarity of it. She was speaking candidly about something I had also experienced, something I hadn't fully shared with my friend beside me, something I had never heard publicly with such candor.
That night was life-changing for me, not only because I won a raffle gift bag filled with anti-wrinkle night creme and Lancôme nail polish (thank you, Marian!), but because I saw a painful hidden experience legitimised and destigmatised, even honoured (oh, thank you, Marian).
The journey she never asked for was one which enabled her to reach that much deeper into the hearts of her readers, and to me. It was a gift she didn't want, but one which she was willing to share.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and society is cautiously finding its way in bringing darkness into light, both literally and figuratively. No one is immune to mental illness; not Christians, not the Church, not faith leaders.
According to a 2015-2016 Health Ireland Survey, 20 percent of those surveyed 'currently have, or have you ever had, a mental health problem.' Similarly, a Lifeway Research poll found that 20 percent of American pastors 'have personally struggled with mental illness of some kind.'
But only 7 percent of pastors ever address mental health in church.
In an article for Christianity Today, author and pastor Ed Stetzer wrote that 'Christians struggle with how to struggle with mental illness. In many ways, the church, the supposed haven for sufferers, is not a safe place for those who struggle with mental illness.' And yet, research shows that an overwhelming majority of people (65 percent, according to Lifeway) want mental health issues discussed openly in church, both from the pulpit and among parishioners.
I know I would, and not just in hushed tones and heavy sighs. I would like the Church to be that safe haven - dare I say, sanctuary : a place of comfort and rest for those suffering with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and crisis of faith. I would like those conversations to not only focus on healing and prayer, but on support and companionship. May this month be the month we check in on one another, unafraid to open the floodgates of personal pain.
And I would like those in positions of influence and authority to feel the freedom to talk about it, one conversation or one message or one essay at a time. Like Keyes did. And like I'm doing now:
At the age of 20, I was diagnosed with a mental illness.
Let's talk about it.