New book challenging stigma of mental illness

Writer Vin McCullagh, who has just published his first book based on his own experiences of mental illness. (2505JC1)
Writer Vin McCullagh, who has just published his first book based on his own experiences of mental illness. (2505JC1)

A unique insight into mental illness by local writer Vin McCullagh, himself once a patient and then a psychiatric nurse, has just been released as an e-book on Amazon.

‘An Ordinary Manic’, Vin’s first book, challenges the stigma of mental illness through his own experiences over the years.

Now aged 57 and living in Derry’s Glen area over 30 years, Vin has the unusual perspective of seeing mental illness from both sides. He suffered greatly from manic depression, nowadays referred to as bi-polar, and was confined to a “mental hospital” in his younger years. As an adult, however, Vin learnt to manage his condition and went on to become a psychiatric nurse at Derry’s Gransha Hospital.

Many in the city will recall Vin’s early theatrical masterpiece ‘Why Am I’, a one-man show based on his early mental health battles which toured widely.

The debut novel is, in some ways, a continuation of this theme but focuses more on recovery and acceptance of one’s past mental health issues.

“The play dealt with very vivid memories I have of growing up in Omagh and going into the mental hospital there,” the author told the ‘Journal’.

“It was more like snapshots of memory showing the impact of manic depression. For the book, though, I began delving into things more, actually putting pieces together - much of which I had never tried to remember. When the family got involved, they helped work out more of the puzzle as the memories came back.”

“The book has actually been finished for quite a while now and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I sent it to [writer] Felicity McCall because I didn’t know if it was nonsense or not, but she thought it very good. She was really helpful and, indeed, very encouraging about it all which is great as I’m the kind of man who needs that type of encouragement!”

The author - a prominent member of the Derry Writers’ Group - has three grown up sons and it was Vin’s son Ben, who works in London, who finally persuaded him to publish the book through Amazon.

“One of the things that must come through in the book is the notion of recovery and survival. You could talk about mental health and the stigma associated with it for hours, but at the end of the day people still presume that once you have a mental illness it’s there for life. It’s important that people know that you can learn from your illness and learn to manage it.”

He hopes the book will open people’s minds to the reality of mental health issues.

“A few decades back there was a huge amount of prominence as regards attitude from doctors, consultants and staff and the authoritarian regime that goes on in these hospitals - ‘do this, do that, take this tablet - none of your business what it is’. These days that problem has lessened to an extent, but there’s still a huge problem inside people’s heads and that’s the stigma that is hugely difficult to diminish.

“I think books like these will maybe give people heart,” he added.

“I want to say there is recovery, there is life after mental illness. Lift your head out of the sand and say to yourself, ‘I have had a bad period in my life but I don’t need to be ashamed; it happened and I’ve come through it’.”

‘An Ordinary Manic’ by Vin McCullagh is available now on Amazon.