‘We’re not nutters’

Three female mental health sufferers in Inishowen have urged people to look at them and not to think they are nutters.

Part of Get together Inishowen (GTI), Michelle Hannah, Helen Rees Doherty and Sharon Quinn, who have all suffered some form of mental health issues, say the worst part is the stigma and shame attached to their disorders.

“You’re constantly worried what people think.

“Even when you go to she the psychiatric nurse you’re thinking people’ll be saying ‘There she is, she’s mad’, or something like that,” explained Helen.

“It’s the simple things that can sometimes be the hardest to do.”

Facilitated by the Worklink centre in Carndonagh, GTI was set up in 2005 to attempt to defeat social isolation. It now has around 50 members who meet on a monthly basis for outings and other social events, which include trips to the theatre, the Old Lamass Fair and even a gruelling climb up Scalp mountain.

“The group has been a huge help in my life,” said Michelle. “It gives you something to look forward to and get excited about. Before I came here I hadn’t left the house in four years, depression had completely taken over. The psychiatric nurse I had been seeing suggested I came and since I haven’t looked back.

“I have severe mental health problems for many years and since I started GTI I can’t believe how far I have come.”

Though the three women are still living with their illness they are all very quick to let people know that once you are brave enough to step forward, there is a whole lot of help and information available.

“Once you’re in a group like GTI it is easy to open up. Everyone understands if you’re not having a good day and we’ve all become such good friends now we can act as a support for each other,” said Helen.

“We have suffered from mental health problems, but we’re not nutters, we’re just ordinary people from different backgrounds,” added Michelle.

Despite the success of the group, Helen still believes there isn’t enough awareness of mental health problems.

“There needs to be more awareness, I think there is a stigma which prevents people from getting help. People need to know more.

“I am bi-polar and it wasn’t until I was diagnosed that my husband had told a few people and all of sudden people were saying oh so does my mum, my aunt etc etc.

“People are constantly trying to hide it from others.”

Sharon Quinn, who returned from her native Scotland to family in Urris, became so isolated her doctor referred her to the Worklink centre.

“GTI has been a great helping hand, I’m doing things now I never thought I would be able to do a year and a half ago.”

Despite the popularity of the group among its members the group has faced a number of barriers with travel being a major problem for many.

“We have people here from all over Inishowen and transport has been a huge issue in rural areas, although thankfully the rural transport network has helped us. Isolation can be one of the biggest factors in contributing to depression,” she added.