UCC Flies a Different Kind of Flag

With UCC Mental Health week fast approaching, Dion Davis tells us how UCC students are being recognised for fighting the stigma surrounding suicide.

“It’s a bit like walking down a long, dark corridor, never knowing when the light will go on,” was Neil Lennon’s response when asked about depression.

This past year has been a breakthrough on the topic of mental health; numerous charities and celebrities are thriving in their efforts to detach the stigma from depression, anxiety and other forms.

Michelle Obama shone a light on the topic recently by saying: “At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.”
America is dealing with this issue, but what about Ireland? Surely most of you have heard snippets from the most recent Budget that the Government released; the media christened it a “giveaway” budget. The only problem was that they did not seem to give much away to Mental Health or the various charities and organisations that are trying to make a difference.

The National Office for Suicide Prevention released figures this month stating that Munster has some of the highest rates of suicide – Limerick City, Cork City and Wexford recorded at the top of the list. Limerick City had the highest rate with 21.1 deaths per 100,000 of the population, which is twice the national average.

As a native of Limerick and a student in Cork, mental health is a topic I frequently think about. The echoing sound of the search and rescue helicopter sends shivers down my spine; who is in the river now? You always think it won’t affect you; praying it’s not a friend or relative, hoping it’s not even someone you know. Then the phone rings, the helicopter is no longer humming – but you are to keep the tears from flooding. Suicide affects everyone.

The Government seem to be brushing the crisis under the rug, hoping that it will survive the next few months of electioneering before anything will be done to assess the problem. Three people on a waiting list for counsellors died after committing suicide in October. They made the first major leap when suffering from depression by actively looking for help. Their search for hope and alleviation left them broken. Funding for counsellors is at an all time low. However, various voluntary organisations provide a beacon of hope for sufferers, one that springs to mind is Suicide Aware.

Suicide Aware helps with the issues of depression and suicide; promoting positive mental health. The voluntary organisation has set up an Amber Flag initiative to encourage other organisations or groups of people to promote positive mental health. Over the past few weeks, some of UCC’s political societies have become the first of their kind to receive the flag in Ireland. Ógra Fianna Fáil were presented the flag by Patricia Behan on the 28th of September in the Council Chambers. I was lucky enough to attend the presentation and hear Behan’s emotive speech as there were few dry eyes left in the room by the end of it. She also gave valid and crucial information, providing us with facts and figures; but more importantly real life cases. Behan told us about her brother’s suicide and how it affected every member of her family. She encouraged us to speak out and to help those in need. A strong and resilient woman, the room was silent until the astounding applause boomed through the room as she ended her speech.

Ógra Fianna Fáil were the first political organisation in the country to be awarded the Amber Flag. Each year they hold a barbeque in aid of Suicide Aware, raising and donating funds for an extremely worthy cause.

In addition, Young Fine Gael held a “Think-In” at the Clarion Hotel in Cork, with mental health as one of the main topics of the day. Patricia Behan brought the Amber Flag to the talk and focused on how they could work to promote mental health and become the next recipient of the flag. The room was split up into groups and mind maps were made on how to tackle the stigma surrounding depression. YFG amberflagYFGare also on their way to receiving a flag and becoming the second political organisation in the country to be awarded for promoting positive mental health.

Students are putting in huge efforts to break down the barriers surrounding suicide and depression. Along with the fantastic work of the amberpossible amber flag symbolpolitical societies on campus here in UCC, the student led mental health awareness Sámh Society needs to be commended for the work they do. With weekly events to eradicate the stigma and monthly fundraisers, the society has gone from strength to strength since its recent foundation.

UCC Mental Health Week starts on the 9th of November this year and I would encourage anyone around campus at this time to get involved in the events hosted by a multitude of societies – but more importantly to donate when and where you can to the charities involved. This is a problem that is not going away.

If you see someone in need of help, assist him or her, if not point them towards someone who can help them. Depression is a dark and lonely road, do not ignore the problem or hope that it will go away. Talk to someone. Then talk again, and again, keep talking until you feel better. Counselling, support groups and medication are all treatments for depression, find the solution that works best for you.

If you have been affected by any of the content in this article please phone Suicide Aware on 087 945 4202. For more updates on the Amber Flag you can check their website www.suicideaware.ie or take a look at the hashtag #FlyTheFlag on twitter.