By Aisling O’Connor
Following Niall Breslin’s – known as Bressie – talk at the Bank of Ireland’s “Be at your Best” seminar, I had the opportunity to talk to the mental health advocate afterwards to ask about his own experiences and to offer some advice to students suffering with mental illness. Here’s what he had to say:
You’ve suffered from anxiety and depression from a young age, what do you feel has helped you the most in dealing with this?
100% the biggest thing was taking the mask off and telling everyone. That was the biggest thing because that allowed me to go and go at the incredible resources out there hard. Then I think once I did that, therapy was the most effective for me, things like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I thought was amazing. It took me awhile to grasp it, same with mindfulness; it took me a long time to grasp it and to really get into it. I think, as I said in the talk, it’s important to understand that it takes time and patience and mental fitness to build it up but if I hadn’t had told everybody I would have never been able to get to the place I got to.
You’re very open about your struggles in your book “Me and My Mate Jeffery” – was this difficult to write?
It was horrific to write. Certain chapters were fine and there were certain moments I didn’t want to tart it up, I didn’t want to tell the story and not offend certain people. I wanted to tell it as horribly straight as I could. There were certain situations I had to write very visibly about, things that I tried to forget. The reality is, and I made the realisation writing the book, was that I don’t want to forget them because it allowed me build something a lot stronger.
A lot of people have come up to you and said you’re the reason they asked for help and shared their own stories with you. How does that make you feel?
It’s overwhelming at times. I think to understand that how I perceive myself in this certain field is that I’m not a health care professional and although people often come up and ask me for help, I can’t really offer any because it’s not my job and you know, I’m not a professional. What I’m trying to do is help people feel okay and seek the help, making them understand that this is normal and also making them understand that it can affect anybody. The stereotype and label of who it should affect, that’s just silly and that has to stop and that’s killing too many people in the country, and why I’m doing this and making my kind of core motivation is to change education. How can we make education more holistic and a lot more involved, and I mean that from primary school to third level. Third level is forgotten so many times, it really is immensely difficult for many many people to go to third level and I think it’s important for peers in third level to keep an eye out for that, to create emotional scaffolding for people and let them find their own coping strategies and you know you could be saving someone’s life if you do that.
The Lust for Life phoenix park run was March 5th. How was it?
It was huge, it was four and a half thousand people and the beautiful thing about that was that four and a half thousand people were doing it for a reason. It wasn’t just lads wanting to run it was people saying “right, we’re here to help progress this conversation.” That’s four and a half thousand leaders. Our government are ignoring it, our leaders are ignoring it and they’re pretending it doesn’t exist like they do with so many social issues. So people like that going out for the run and people doing Darkness into Light runs for Pieta House; they’re the real heroes, they’re the people trying to lead this society out of the darkness and it’s good to see. It’s good to see people doing that.
What advice do you have for students at third level, or even second level down to primary students, who struggle with their mental health?
The advice I’d have for them would be, number one is that they have to understand how normal this is and the mind, although can be weakened, can be absolutely strengthened. The mind is the most important thing; the mind is what you need to invest in. You can do all the training, studying, everything you want, if your mind rebels it’s very hard to ever be happy. So allow yourself to be happy, allow yourself to invest in your mind and try and get to understand it. Give it a name, there’s gonna be days you hate the f**king thing, but there’s gonna be more days you’ll love it.