A cloud enveloped our nation at the weekend with Ireland's exit from the rugby World Cup. In New Zealand the nation continues to hold its breath. Medical professionals are already predicting a national depression if the All Blacks are knocked out of the tournament. According to an associate professor at Wellington's Victoria University, there is evidence to suggest that a loss of someone's favoured team does result in sadness "for at least a day".
It may seem rather trite to discuss depression in the same context as a sports team, but it is a widely-held belief that citizens can benefit from a nation's successes, and the reverse is also true - whether temporary or long term. Thus here in Ireland we have increasing numbers of people who are homeless, jobless, and lacking hope. We are not talking about a day's sadness, but about feelings that can affect our everyday lives for weeks or longer. It is not an issue confined to individuals, but to our society. Too often it is a stigma attached to a person, rather than a problem which our country as a community must tackle head on. Is there one person who does not knows someone, if not themselves, who has been affected by mental illness?
This week is World Mental Health Week and, according to Mental Health Ireland, building a strong community can benefit each member in times of stress by strengthening social networks, offering support to members of the community in times of need, working together on common goals, as well as ensuring safety and promoting healthy lifestyles. But too often those charged with the task are voluntary groups, like Mental Health Ireland, which are also struggling in today's climate to fund activities. This week several organisations are making positive contributions. Congratulations to Ladies' Gaelic Football which has joined forces with MHI. Gaelic4Mothers & Others has encouraged women who are usually on the sidelines to become more involved in their local club and community, by encouraging them to be both physically and socially active. The Union of Students has teamed up with First Fortnight and Republic of Loose to launch a series of college concerts appropriate for young people which aim to challenge mental health prejudice and discrimination. It accepts that "a significant portion of students feel ashamed or scared to share their anxieties and difficulties around their mental health".
It is also heartening to see our presidential candidates embrace mental health and suicide on their election platforms, first highlighted by Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell. He wants to work with those voluntary groups which do all the important work in the area of mental health. Michael D Higgins believes if elected he will be "committed to breaking down negative attitudes and discrimination, encouraging inclusion and participation for persons living with mental illness". All other candidates have since included mental health on their presidential platforms, so let us hope the person elected in the coming weeks will deliver on those promises. Presidents of Ireland have recently used the office to develop new economic, political, and cultural links between the State and other countries. That is worthwhile and admirable, but perhaps the new president could also focus on building bridges internally - between state agencies, voluntary groups, and communities. After all, self worth is inherently linked to one's environment.