As students and teachers get ready to head back to school, Tom Lenihan, now in his early 20’s reflects on the impact that Aware’s Beat the Blues schools talk had on him when he was aged 17.
“I knew none of this when I was 13 but looking back now, I wonder how I managed to put up with how I was feeling. I had core beliefs about myself that were profoundly negative and unshakeable. These were impacting on my well-being and their effects were exacerbated by low self-esteem and anxiety. I questioned my self-worth and felt crippled by consistently low mood. Suicide was something I thought about daily.
I hadn’t really been exposed to the term mental health until Aware came to my school when I was in fifth year and delivered a talk on the importance of good mental health and how to recognise depression. I always remember looking at a card that listed the symptoms of depression and it said that if you had a few of these for a sustained period of two weeks you should consult your doctor because you may be suffering from depression. I had virtually every symptom on the list. Many of them I had been struggling with for nearly five years at that point.
The talk that was given that day was a real wake up call for me and it helped guide me on a path to recovery. I had suffered for too long and it was not getting easier. I was going to do something positive about it. I decided to tell my parents that I thought I had depression. I was incredibly nervous about telling them. I know I shouldn’t have been but I couldn’t help feeling ashamed. My parents were very understanding and supportive. Looking back, I think a big part of why I was afraid of opening up about it was that I was afraid of admitting to myself that I had a problem. But when I could put a name to it and started to talk about it, things got easier.
A lot has changed in the last few years about the perception of mental health and I believe the stigma is not as big as it once was. There is more awareness on the subject, thanks in part to organisations like Aware carrying out their mission of support. I rarely hear anyone downplay the prevalence and issues concerning depression and I feel that people are more supportive than ever of their friends, family and community when it comes to mental health issues. Having said that, when I know someone who is feeling down for a prolonged period of time, I bring up the supports that are out there. I encourage them to avail of the help on offer but often they don’t. They are incredibly supportive of others but not of themselves. Sometimes it can get worse. It doesn’t need to. That’s why the work Aware does is so important. ‘Beat the Blues’ is a message everyone needs to hear and a talk that every student in senior-cycle should have access to.”
More information about Beat the Blues programme.