Evie is a friend of mine who I have had the privilege to get to know over the last few years!
Before I made my video talking about our story I never knew Evie felt so passionate about mental health. Here is a Q&A I did with her this week. Below is the open letter she sent to Leo Varadkar.
Enjoy the article and thank you Evie for everything you have done for Mental Health to date and for the amazing work you will do in the future!
Evie, what made you leave the workforce and go back to college to study Psychology?
To give you a bit of background, I studied Philosophy for my undergraduate degree. After graduating, I worked in Finance for 2.5 years, and then Advertising Sales for a year before returning to college. I have wanted to become a psychologist since I was about 10 years old, when I first discovered that suicide was a thing someone could do. I discovered it from a movie (nothing personal, thank God), and couldn’t sleep for about a month thinking about what would drive someone to do it.
I kept trying to understand what another person must be going through to want to end their life, and could only reconcile myself by deciding I would eventually be in a position to help them. I didn’t make the points in my leaving to study Psychology during my undergrad, but I knew it was an option as a post graduate, and I also firmly believe life experience helps in this field. I actually hadn’t planned on returning until I was about 30 initially.
What had you been working at?
I worked in Finance for 2.5 years – I managed to fall into a really well paying job straight after graduation. I learned a lot about the real world here I guess, but always felt completely and utterly unfulfilled. I used to call it glorified button bashing. I didn’t really think I was contributing much to the role. I left when an opportunity to work in advertising/media came along. I was much happier in this environment, but I still had that nagging feeling that I was contributing absolutely nothing to the world, or working on any of my own strengths.
Was it a difficult decision?
In a material sense: yes, but in a personal sense: not at all. I was completely independent financially when I was offered a place in Trinity. I was paying rent, car insurance, bills, all the usual adult things. As it had been a bit of a rash decision to apply to Trinity, I didn’t have very much in terms of savings. Luckily, my parents were extremely supportive. They’d be forgiven if they weren’t, but they knew this was something I’ve always wanted to be and felt extremely passionate about. When I accepted my place, I cried for about 2 solid hours. I think it might have been the first time I have ever felt like I’m on the right path, or on a path somewhere at all.
Does it worry you about the lack of public jobs in Psychology here in Ireland?
Yes. I’ve signed up for 2 years of the student life. After that, I have to gain experience and (most likely) earn a masters before applying to the Clinical doctoral programs. Unfortunately, the experience offered to anyone less than this is often full time and entirely ‘voluntary’. There are a very limited number of places in the Clinical programs in England and Ireland, so it can take a few attempts (read: years) before being accepted.
What does depression mean to you?
This is a tough one! As I mentioned before, my first experience of depression was an impersonal one, but one that deeply affected me. The thought of being a prisoner inside your own mind is easily the scariest thing I could, and can, think of. Like everyone else, I know what it means to feel sad, alone, prospect-less or even empty. For myself and most people these are transient feelings. Thinking of them as perpetual or chronic is unbearable. In fact, whenever I do feel any of those feelings, one of the best ways to console myself is by saying “this’ll pass”. I wish it could be the same for everyone.
Depression, to me, means people suffer. Some people feel strongly about others suffering in a physical way (wars), a material way (poverty), through sickness (cancer), and many other ways. I suppose, for whatever reason, depression and other similar conditions strike a chord with me. Maybe this particular domain is something I feel I can contribute to. Nobody should be a prisoner in their own mind, and if I can, I want to help get them out.
Do you think non sufferers should try educate themselves on how to help someone with depression or mental health problems?
Absolutely!!! I think it’s just as important and people who do suffer getting help for themselves. It’s a hugely misunderstood area for most people. A large part of what contributes to negative feelings of depression is the constant worry of how you’ll be perceived if you admit them, or how other people can never understand. If these other people took the time to understand, I think some of the burden carried by the affected would lift.
“A problem shared is a problem halved” is a seriously underrated statement! Someone suffering from mental health problems may not be in a position to help themselves, and sometimes just talking about it can be cathartic. But the people you speak to need to be sensitive and understanding. It isn’t your fault if you can’t relate to depression (or similar), but it’s worth trying.
Why did you decide to write a letter to Leo Varadkar?
There are a couple of reasons. First and foremost, admittedly, I wrote the letter from the perspective of a psychology student. My peers and I are looking at a bleak few years after graduation, of gaining essentially mandatory voluntary experience in order to gain a place on a doctoral program, which will lead to a paying job. I was genuinely shocked to find they were removing budget which could EASILY be spent on paying the current highly skilled “volunteers” in the HSE. Some of these positions require a masters qualification in psychology, and come with no compensation, or mention you can apply through job-bridge. Ridiculous.
The second reason I wrote, was because I had been under the impression that Ireland was changing for the better. Many of my friends who have had difficulties with mental health are more open with their issues, or are becoming more open. In the media too, mental health conversations are very warmly received by the public. I really feel like the ‘shame’ that was once associated with asking for help, or sharing this kind of experience, is going. It should never have existed in the first place, but sure look. Hearing funds were being withdrawn made me feel like the government do not take mental health issues seriously. I think it sends a horrendous message to the public. They are saying that mental health issues are not as important, urgent or threatening as a physical illness. Minister Varadkar may defend his actions by highlighting the increases mental health service funding has seen recently, but these are increases from a pittance. And his sentiments are totally discredited when a decrease comes into play!
I have heard some horrendous stories from doctors working on Psych wards. People are turned away from treatment because the service the need simply doesn’t exist in Ireland. A medical student told me he worked on a ward where a patient hanged himself, successfully. Can you imagine how the people trying to help this patient felt? Failure. The ‘system’ absolutely failed this man.
Governmental support, in itself, will legitimize the problems of people with depression, psychosis and other issues. These are people who feel on the outskirts of society, whose voices aren’t heard or who are too scared to speak. They need to be given a voice by the people representing them!
How do you think the Health Minister could help this sector?
I think he needs to treat mental health issues as health issues. By and large, mental health issues receive treatment when they become physical health issues (overdoses, attempted suicide, severe anorexia, and so on). There is a demand for mental health services which is not being met. The supply is there, in terms of eager to work psychologists, but the funding is not. The government are the number one obstruction right now. The minister needs to work on the services, the public can continue their good work on the stigma.
There is no difference between mental health services and the people who provide them. The minister needs to create jobs in this sector immediately. He needs to offer the resources to people who desperately need them. He needs to consider early-intervention in mental health issues: waiting until mental problems become medical problems adds to the burden of over crowding in hospitals, adds to the grief and despair of long suffering individuals and families, and adds to the heavy conscience of people trying to help, who simply can’t under these circumstances.
Any tips for anyone suffering reading this?
Reach out!!! I promise you, people will understand. People DO understand. Granted, there are some total idiots in this world, but most people will be sensitive and empathetic. You are not alone. Nobody on this planet is exempt from feeling sad, anxious, or scared. Although there’s huge room for improvement, the services are there to help you take the first steps on your path to better mental health, if you haven’t taken them already. Personally, I am often awe-struck by the courage it takes to speak about something which affects a person so deeply. It’s nothing short of an accomplishment to over come them, and if it’s your cross to bear, bear it with the pride that you’re doing something really fucking hard. It’s also an easier cross to bear if someone’s helping you carry it J.
Dear Mr Varadkar,
Every day more people are ‘coming out’ as living with depression, losing a brother to suicide, or suffering panic attacks. I’m proud of my peers for decisively removing the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
I bullishly imagined that this growing movement to ‘mind ourselves’ would be reflected by governmental support. There is a dire need to improve and add services to help mental health sufferers. It is not good enough to be stuck on a waiting list. Suicide doesn’t wait.
I was recently told a story which struck me at how bad things have gotten. A suicidal woman visited her GP looking for help she clearly needed. When faced with the option of joining an over-extended waiting list, to avail of over-burdened and ill-endowed mental health services, it seemed like a better option to take an overdose. This, at least, would result in immediate hospitalization and care.
We are told that prevention is better than cure, but it appears that attempting suicide is the most efficient way to prevent suicide.
When I read, not that there would be no increase in funding for mental health services, but that they would be deprived of twelve million euro, I felt like I had been punched. The number of suicides reported each year is around 550, although this figure is more likely closer to 1000. This is 3 deaths per day. I shudder to think what this number will look like when vital help is taken away.
It will be TWELVE MILLION euro less available psychologists for those who need them.
It will be TWELVE MILLION euro less confidence sufferers will have that their voice will be heard if they ask for help.
It will be TWELVE MILLION euro worth of lives that won’t be saved this year.
After three years in the workforce, I made the decision to return to college and pursue a graduate degree in Psychology. Although my friends and family were extremely supportive of the decision to leave a well paying job and return to college as an adult, there was one comment that kept coming up:
“If you’re going back to college, would you not study Medicine or Law? At least you'll make sure there's a job at the end of it”.
Do you see what this implies? There are no jobs in Psychology. Which is funny, because there is plenty of supply, and plenty of demand.
Believe it or not Leo, denying the validity of someone’s mental health problems does not make them go away, it makes them worse. Anyone who has ever had trouble falling asleep, even for just one night, will be familiar with counting down the hours ‘til morning and realising if you fall asleep now, you’ll only get 5 hours sleep… 4 hours sleep… 3 hours sleep and so on.
The patterns of depressive thoughts, anxious thoughts, suicidal ideation, and negative self image are much like that. The longer they continue, the more desperate they become.
Mr Varadkar, this is a huge step back for Ireland, for this generation, and for future generations.
Why have you done this?