I’m writing this on the morning of Thursday, the 11th of October. It’s early morning and, uncharacteristically of me, I’m just not in the mood to keep my eyes shut and engulf myself in the warm thickness of my heavy winter blankets. I’m uneasy and jittery and feel like there’s something inside of me that needs to come out. I’ve got something on my mind. I’ve got a lot of things on my mind.
Last night, after a droning day of typing and reading – a day any college student will know too well – had crawled its way to a weary end, I was struck by something I had forgotten. A documentary was due to air that night at 10:30pm on RTE2, something which I had been informed about by my friends at the Express only a few weeks prior. It was about 11pm at the time, so I was late in my remembrance – but I had fortunately set the documentary to record in advance. I folded shut my laptop and trudged my way downstairs, eager to shift the focus of my blue-light tired eyes to the somewhat less blinding screen of my telly. I sat myself down and reclined myself backwards, tracked down the recording and focused my full attention on the screen.
The documentary was titled My Other Life: Ireland’s Youth and Their Mental Health, a collaborative project created chiefly by former CIT student Edvinas Maciulevicius. The film revolves around the personal stories of a small group of young Irish people, each giving raw testimonials of their own struggles with mental illness.
I’ve seen many documentaries about mental health. Big budget productions with big names attached to them – but never in my life have I been so emotionally moved and rocked to my core as I was by this little powerhouse of a film. Maybe it was the painfully raw and all-bearing accounts of the young peoples’ experiences; maybe it was the slow-moving shots of the busy Cork streets I walk along almost every day; but something really got to me. In a very practical and geographical sense; as well as an emotional sense that cannot be so easily articulated, it just hit very close to home. I don’t know any of the subjects of the film personally, but I felt like I did. I felt like I’d met them a thousand times over, in pubs or at college events or in brief encounters that involved no more than a few words. Their personalities were all too familiar, and their stories far too alien.
The story of Adam Finn, a UCC student not much older than myself, who had planned to take his own life and was saved by a matter of minutes, was something that I deeply struggled to listen to. He had made plans to lay out one of his old rugby kits on his bed as it was a memoir of a time when he felt true happiness, and he wished to be buried in it. As someone who was involved in sports for years and made lifelong friends through such teams, it was a scary lens through which to view the joyful memories I have of team sports. To think that someone who had shared so much of my own childhood happiness could now be left shrouded in such a dire entrapment of pure and utter blackness. To think that it could have been – and quite possibly was – someone who I grew up with myself.
In a very different way, I was deeply moved by the words of Katie Quinlan, a former Welfare Officer of the UCC Students’ Union. She spoke about mental health and wellbeing in a way that was inspiringly practical and easy to grasp. In one particular section of the film, when talking about the changes in education and mental health policy that our country so desperately needs, she imagines an example of what a pragmatic class on mental health would entail:
“We’re going to explain to every student in the classroom that every one of you has mental health, some of you will just struggle with it. Some of you will need professional help. Some of you will need medication; and some of you, from time to time, will just get a bit down.”
I truly believe that this level of practicality when speaking and educating people on mental health is what is needed to inspire true change. As long as mental health is attached in any way to a sense of stigmatic shame in this country, our Irish ways will get the better of us, and our mouths will stay perpetually shut.
The documentary can be viewed on RTE player and I can’t overstate how worthy it is of your time. It’s an immensely powerful piece, and if nothing else, adds its own raw and deeply personal voice to a conversation that, despite its ever-increasing volume, should never stop being turned up.