By Jenny Kerr
An article published by the Irish Examiner, entitled ‘Our shameful asylums’, shows that in the early 19th century Ireland’s handling of issues surrounding a person’s mental and emotional state were dealt with in a very businesslike manner. Due to this, many people suffering from various forms of mental health issues were often placed into facilities such as mental institutions or ‘asylums’ as they were known in those days.
Conditions in these asylums were harrowing. Patients or ‘inmates’ as they were called back then, were placed in cells that had little or no ventilation and were chained to their beds while being subjected to bizarre experiments. These cells contained corpses, which lay on the floor for days without being removed. Due to overcrowding patients were exposed in the winter and were left vulnerable to ‘fevers’
This was how people coped with mental health issues in the early 19th century. In saying that, growing up, it always confused me how people could believe that asking for or seeking help (regarding your emotional or mental state), was seen as a sign of weakness, while there were people in this country committing suicide having been unable to cope with the pressures they were under in their daily lives and looked for a ‘way out’, rather than finding a more positive solution to overcoming their emotional or mental health issues.
For many people, living with a disability in Ireland was and in some cases, still is a similar story to that of those who lived with mental health issues in Ireland in the early 19th century. A special report on the RTE News website, entitled ‘Old Too Soon’ was published back in August of 2015. It stated that in that same year the Disability Federation of Ireland had said there were more than 1,000 young people with disabilities living in long term care such as nursing homes, across the country. The organisation at the time stated that placing people under the age of 65 in these facilities was not only inappropriate for the health of these young people but also for their social care needs as well
Over the past 30 years I myself have been asked about how I ‘cope’ with having a physical disability, mainly by people who had very little or no experience of living or working with a person who has a disability. Whenever I was asked this question, I didn’t really know what the answer to it really was. I suppose growing up I felt like it was just something that people were programmed to do in order to survive through traumatic or stressful situations. Nevertheless, I have often wondered, what does it really mean, “to cope” and how do people seem to do it so well?
However having read the article published by the Irish Examiner, I feel that there may have been links between how people with mental health issues were treated back in the early 19th century, and the increasingly high rate of suicides in Ireland today. It seems to me that, if the services that are available now to treat a person with mental health issues, were available back in the early 19th century, there would have been less suicides today. Speaking as a person who has had her own set of lifetime challenges, it saddens me to think that those suffering from mental health issues were treated in this way. Unfortunately people with mental health issues weren’t the only people in society to be treated like this.
Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) was set up in the 1960’s to help those with a physical disability to become more involved in a society that at that time was inaccessible to them due to lack of wheelchair access to public buildings. It was society’s attitude to disability which also caused problems. Irish Wheelchair Association was established for members, by members. Since it has been established, Irish Wheelchair Association has provided many different services for its members throughout the country. These services include, Resource Centres, Respite Breaks, Independent Living Apartments and Driving Tuition (to name a few)
Personally, I feel that just because it may seem like a person is coping with challenges they may face in their lifetime, doesn’t always mean that they don’t need a shoulder to cry on from time to time. As the song says, ‘We all need somebody to lean on’. There are many groups out there that can help if you feel you are struggle and don’t know who to turn to, groups such as, ChildLine, Jigsaw and Aware. Currently Irish Wheelchair Association is running workshops in their centres, to help raise awareness of mental health issues among their members. For me and many others like me, these services are key in helping people to not only be more confidence in themselves but also within their communities as well.
For more information please visit www.iwa.ie/youth
You can read an article about IWA’s Healthy Head Workshops here: http://www.iwa.ie/information/iwa-articles/youth-articles/featured-youth-articles/item/healthy-head-workshops