Mayor of Wexford Cllr Frank Staples says that speaking out about his mental illness was like ‘taking away a mask’ and is encouraging people to open up.
Cllr Staples, who has been open about his own battle with depression in recent years, said that suffering in silence is like wearing a mask – an ordeal that it can become very exhausting for a person over time.
‘It’s so exhausting to be covering up mental illness day in and day out,’ he said. ‘When you talk about it, it can only be described as taking away a mask. You feel instantly better. I encourage people to let down the mask and talk about it.’
‘For me as mayor to speak out about my own battle with depression, it has made a huge difference to me,’ he continued. ‘It feels really good to be open. I know now that if I’m not feeling well, I can talk about it. I don’t feel like I am making excuses.’
Cllr Staples acknowledged that it can be difficult for people to seek help themselves when they are suffering from a mental illness. With this in mind, he said it is important for everyone in the community to play their part in tackling the issue.
‘I have said before that I feel that anyone with a mental illness is strong. They have to face daily battles but they can’t keep fighting forever,’ he said.
‘We expect people to ask for help when they are struggling but not everyone is able to do that. We all have a huge part to play. It’s important to ask those close to you how they are and even though they might not speak out the first time, it might encourage them to eventually open up,’ he said.
At a higher level, Cllr Staples said that establishing a 24/7 mental health unit in Wexford is vital, not only for those suffering from mental illness, but for those close to them.
‘If somebody is suffering from depression for example, it’s good for their family to know that there is 24/7 support available. It gives them reassurance that there is somewhere that they can go if their loved one is in difficulty,’ he said. ‘Mental illness doesn’t only affect those suffering.’
Cllr Staples reiterated earlier reports that the County Council are currently in talks with the government on the possibility of an alternative use for St Senan’s Hospital. He said He would like to see a 24/ 7 unit on the grounds of Wexford General Hospital.
‘A 24/7 unit is definitely needed in Wexford and I don’t think anyone is going to argue that. There has been a lot of speculation about where it should be but I would like to see it on the grounds of Wexford General Hospital as you have access to other services there,’ he said.
‘I would love to see it soon but I am under no illusions; it takes a lot of time and money. Finding a building is no problem but hiring staff costs a lot of money,’ he continued. ‘But if we don’t at least talk about it, it will never happen.’
Improving education on mental health is also necessary, according to Cllr Staples, who said that many young people may not know if they are suffering with depression.
‘More could be done for teens and young people. They might be suffering from depression but don’t know the symptoms. There are so many symptoms of depression. They could be going around feeling terrible and not knowing why,’ he said.
Cllr Staples made his comments following the release of figures from the CSO, which showed that 405 people lost their lives to suicide in Wexford between 1995 and 2015. Commenting on the figures, he said that they were shocking and very high but said it is likely that they are even higher in reality. He said it is difficult to know for sure why Wexford has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country.
‘We have a high rate of unemployment and I am sure that isn’t helping,’ he said. ‘But that’s just speculation. I imagine it is linked in some way or another as unemployment puts more financial pressure on people.’
(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/newrossstandard/news/mayor-of-wexford-cllr-frank-staples-speaks-out-about-mental-health-in-light-of-suicide-figures-35215238.html)