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Ban the brave face

On the Edge

On the Edge
Áine Ryan

ANYBODY interested in starting a campaign to ban the expression: ‘Put on a brave face’?  Let’s ban it for the sake of all the young soldiers who walked across the trenches to horrible and needless deaths during World War I. Let’s ban it in memory of all the idealistic young soldiers who believed in the lies peddled to them about the threat of communism from North Vietnam. Let’s ban it too for all the young soldiers who believed in the unadulterated  bulls**t about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction peddled by George Bush Jr and Tony Blair.

LET’S ban it also simply for ourselves. For you and me. So that when we walk down the street and aren’t feeling ‘over the moon’, it’s okay not to be ‘over the moon’. So that when we queue in the supermarket aisle it is okay too to be feeling ‘a little under the weather’; to be ‘not firing on all cylinders’; to be fed up of the daily demands of life: of having to make ends meet, re-tax the car, put the bins out, check if the cat has fleas, check if the dog is going through the menopause, why the geraniums always appear to have a death wish.
The thing is, life can be pretty painful sometimes. Even when we are in the full of our health, even when we have jobs, even when our petty problems are so-called First World problems.  
So, who was it anyway who decided we should always be smiling, pretending everything is ‘rosy in the garden’?
“Hi, how are you today?”
“Great. And you?”
“Oh! I’m brilliant. I couldn’t be better.”
“Well, I’m on top of the world.”
Hmm! Yeah! Sure.
Well, it would be a bit awkward, wouldn’t it, if we spilled our guts on the garage forecourt to every acquaintance we happen to run into, or to that gossipy neighbour who knows more about us than we know ourselves, or, indeed, that hot guy who trains the kids in the local GAA club?
Best put on a brave face. After all, it is easier.     

I wonder though why there is such a stigma about mental health issues still in Irish society? Why are we so afraid to reach out, to ask for help, to say we are feeling vulnerable, frightened, insecure, anxious?
Why have we imposed a tyranny of anxiety on ourselves and all in the name of so-called progress.

Crazy, isn’t it?
Surveys show that attitudes in Irish society to mental-health difficulties remain fraught with negativity. One study, carried out by St Patrick’s Mental Health Services in Dublin a few years ago revealed that two-thirds of the respondents surveyed felt that being treated for a mental-health problem confirmed a personal failure while one-quarter said they would not tell anyone if they had been treated as an inpatient in a mental health facility.      
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that one-in-four young people suffer from a mental illness while some 300,000 people in the Republic of Ireland alone suffer from depression. So, why, despite all the public information campaigns and support structures implemented by Government and NGOs, is it still a taboo subject?
A survey by Laya healthcare here found that eight in ten adults (80 percent) have been affected by anxiety, with almost half (44 percent) admitting that their mental wellbeing is of real concern to them. One in ten (11 percent) confirmed that everyday struggles get on top of them with money worries coming top of the list (49 percent); poor sleep patterns (46 percent); being overweight (43 percent) and spending too much time on social media (20 percent).
Aren’t these statistics quite simply frightening?    
Why can’t we just treat a malady of the mind like we’d treat a pain in our backs or our big toes?
Time to stop asking people how they are, if we don’t really want to know.