Tag Archive for depression

Those in glass houses…

An all-too-familiar scene.

About a year or more ago, one of my best friends and I had a falling-out on Facebook.

Tired of the constant negative publicity Ireland was getting in Swedish media, I used the “Ireland is open for business” line to update my status.

The genie was out of the bottle.

The torrent of abuse I got was unmerciful, and for the most part understandably so. In addressing one audience, I had innocently offended another.

I had poked the hornet’s nest, and all the bitterness and anger at the destruction of Ireland’s economy was spread over my Facebook wall as I was publicly tarred and feathered.

Eventually an uneasy truce was reached, and as time went on I hope those in Ireland realised I was just as angry as them.

So despite the obvious advantages of living here, I’m very careful not to paint a picture of some Scandinavian utopia. Bad things happen here too.

Take the mail I got last night- it was one of the nicest, bravest, strongest things I’ve received in a while.

Someone wrote to me to thank me for not forgetting the case of Kate Fitzgerald. You could say the person had a vested interest, as they were in a similar position.

When the writer’s illness – brought on from what I understand by bullying in the workplace -became known, sensitivity and help were promised.

None was forthcoming.

Our correspondent with depression was made redundant.

Nor was this some two-bit PR firm that specialises in in smiling through the stench of hypocrisy.

The company this person worked for was one of the most respected in Scandinavia.

Having tweeted about the mail last night, I was shocked at the amount of other people that got in touch to say that they had been treated in a similar fashion.

I was even more shocked at how close some of them came to ending their own lives as a result of what happened at work.

Depression does not discriminate, but employers do.

But like depression, their discrimination seems to know no boundaries.

It happens in Ireland.

It happens in Scandinavia.

It happens everywhere.

And like depression, things can often appear to be OK on the surface, but all the while there is something malignant gnawing away beneath.

A decade or more ago, alcoholism in the workplace was treated in the same way. Ignored for the most part, and then shunned.

Nowadays, alcoholism meets with a lot more understanding – not because employers have changed their opinion of it, but because they have been shamed into treating it differently.

It still causes them problems. It still costs them money.

But they have been shamed into treating it as an illness.

So let me be very clear.

I know the name of this company.

I know the nature of the allegations against them.

I will be following their actions very carefully.

Very carefully indeed.

 

If you are feeling depressed, don’t suffer in silence- go visit your doctor and get professional medical help. If you feel your depression has been used against you by your employer, contact your union representative. 

How quickly we forget

It all seems so long ago now.

A week or two ago, we were filled with anger and anguish, despair and indignation at two deaths.

The death of Gary Speed- one of the only true nice guys in football- had us reeling as it forced us once again to confront the unknowable that is suicide.

The death of Kate Fitzgerald did something similar.

But the nature of her passing went several steps further, coming as it did after her article about her struggle with depression and her perceptions of her employer’s attitude towards her illness became the story.

The furore was a passionate as it was short-lived. The Irish Times was loudly pilloried for pulling a sheet over her corpse and telling us “there’s nothing to see here”.

The stony silence of Terry Prone  and the rest at the Communications Clinic- who have still to make any public comment on the matter – says it all. There is no more story. There is nothing to see here.

In journalism, one of the most prized talents is also one of the most indefinable and elusive- that of “news sense”. In a good journalist, editor or subeditor, it is the ability to observe a story with laser-like precision and decide whether or not it is worth investing resources in.

That’s the first part. The latter part is knowing when to get out of a story with impeccable timing – when there’s nothing left but an empty shell. When there’s nothing to see here.

An example – I’ll be in Oslo again next week, and I can guarantee two things. People there will be weary of talking to the media about Anders Behring Breivik. And the foreign media will no longer be there.

What a difference from a few months ago, when the quietest city of them all was the centre of a media maelstrom. But the story is gone. There is nothing to see here.

For once, I question the judgement, the news sense of those far more talented than I.

I think, in relation to the deaths of Gary Speed and certainly in relation to Kate Fitzgerald, there most certainly is something to see here.

So I’m going to go against the grain for another little while and keep writing about Kate and Gary. In particular, there are still things we need to know about Kate’s situation.

One question I’d like to see answered centres on the paradox of why The Communications Clinic now has nothing to say about Kate or depression, or anything, when a few short months ago Gay Mitchell- a presidential candidate apparently schooled by them – was talking up his interest in mental health and how he would put suicide at the top of the agenda in the Aras.

For all his foghorning then, Gay seems very silent on the matter now- as do the rest of the candidates.

But I wonder did he ever meet Kate Fitzgerald during his media training? I wonder did he know of her illness? I wonder did he think of her on the campaign trail when he was making those statements?

Maybe Gay is displaying impeccable news sense. Maybe he’s moved on. But I don’t intend to, not yet.

I may not get very far, because sometimes it’s not just news sense that kills a story. Sometimes there are other reasons that we as journalists decide that there is nothing more to see here.

But this time, I’m not buying it. Not yet.

A right of reply

Terry Prone - expert on what working women should do - doesn't appear to be too keen to share that knowledge with us at the moment.

Busy day today, but here goes anyway – some things cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.

The Irish Times has issued an apology to the Communications Clinic- the house of spin owned by Terry Prone and her family – after Kate Fitzgerald’s article published on September 9.

There is a simple anomaly here- neither she nor they were mentioned by name, so what is the Times apologising for?

Surely it should be regretting the fact that their identities became known by other means, rather than the article itself?

The Times goes on to say that “ significant assertions within the original piece were not factual”, but neither they nor the Communications Clinic specify what these assertions were.

In fact, I cannot recall seeing a single public statement from Prone on the issue, despite the fact that it appears she’d normally turn up at the opening of an envelope if it was televised or photographed.

The craven apology then goes on to state “their publication was significantly damaging to the staff and management of her employer, the Communications Clinic”.

Is it glib to suggest that the writing of the article was even more damaging to Kate Fitzgerald, who took her own life shortly after doing so?

But the killer blow comes at the end, when the Times blithely states that “no legal representation was made to us on this matter.”

It’s as if they woke up one morning and said “remember that anoymous piece about depression by that girl who killed herself? That must have been very upsetting for the Communications Company. We really should apologise for that.”

The reason for this rebuttal is this; the Irish Times is saying that it was wrong to publish the article. I disagree.

Despite the application of the highest journalistic standars, in an open debate about depression and its effects on the family, society and the workplace, reputations are going to get questioned and in some cases damaged.

Instead, the Irish Times has chosen the easy way out and apologised to, possibly without realising that in doing so, they are implying in the process that Kate Fitzgerald was lying in her article – a serious allegation in itself, I think you’ll agree.

In allowing the piece to be published anonymously with no reference to her employer, the Irish Times has done all that is reasonably possible to facillitate that debate whilst protecting the reputations of those involved.

That the Communications Clinic was subsequently identified is regrettable; that they have been apologised to in this manner is shameful.

They have offered nothing to the public debate on the treatment of people who suffer from depression in the workplace – all they have offered is more of the same thing that allows depression and bullying to prosper.

Silence.

Saying the unsayable

George Carlin said the seven things you can't say on television. On television.

As comedian George Carlin once bravely stated, there are some things you just can’t say.

So he did.

He went on television and said the seven words that he believed you couldn’t say on television, and in the end the Supreme Court intervened to try to set the bar for what could and couldn’t be said.

There are certain things that, to a greater or lesser degree, cannot or should not be said in a recession-era Irish workplace – not if you want to keep your job.

Here’s six of them.

Depression.

Alcoholic.

Stress.

Suicide.

Abuse.

Sexual harassment.

Cancer? Fine, to a degree, as is having a heart attack.

After all, any employer seeking to curtail the rights of anyone suffering from these ailments would be seen as heartless.

But there is a stigma attached to the six conditions described above.

They are not seen by some employers as being illnesses or medical problems or acts perpetrated on a person against their will.

They are seen as signs of  weakness or selfishness.

Employers often don’t want to know. Perhaps understandably, they have enough to worry about with the collapse in domestic demand and rent and rates and taxes, and the problems of their employees just add to their burden.

But the fact of the matter is that you don’t just employ the sales person or the marketer or the teacher or, in the case of Kate Fitzgerald, the PR professional – you employ the person, and all that comes with them.

It’s time to remove the stigma around those words.

I used to drink a lot. I don’t anymore.

Was I an alcoholic? I don’t know.

But I have never used the “a” word in relation to myself, or anyone else, because it is of no help whatsoever.

Nor do I intend to. To do so would be to label myself and others, to narrow the perception of who we are and what it is we have to offer.

I absolutely refuse to have that done to me, and I refuse to do it to others.

Equally, like the vast majority of people, I have imagined what it would be like if I just wasn’t here any more.

Can you classify that as a suicidal thought? Probably, for all the good it will do you.

But others have taken those thoughts an awful lot further, many to their appalling conclusion.

Why can they not speak out?

Shame.

There is a sense of shame attached to all of the above, but as I’ve previously written, what good does that serve? Where does being ashamed get us?

At best, nowhere. At worst, the end of a rope.

The point is this. There are a lot of people – a lot of people – who are barely keeping it together.

But they cannot talk about their drinking, or their abuse, or their depression or suicidal thoughts, because to do so would be to draw a veil of shame over themselves and effectively end their careers.

This has to stop.

The sooner we can see these things for what they are – illnesses that can be treated and/or cured, or life events that we can be counseled for – the sooner we can remove the stigma from them.

There is no shame in drinking too much, or in being stressed, depressed or suicidal. Rape or abuse is not your fault.

The depressing thing about George Carlin’s seven things you can’t say on television is that most of them still cannot be said on television.

If forty years from now the same was to be said of depression, alcoholism and the rest in Ireland, that would be a real tragedy.

God Speed

Gary Speed, 1969 - 2011.

You may almost be feeling jealous this morning.

Gary Speed dies and the outpouring of grief and love and respect is enormous.

Imagine if that was you.

That would solve a few problems, wouldn’t it?

If you were to die today – like Gary did yesterday – your problems would be over and people would love and respect you the way you always wanted them to.

The way they love and respect Gary.

But the love and respect being poured out in print and on the airwaves this morning is masking something an awful lot bigger – sadness and anger and bitterness at Gary Speed’s passing.

You can be sure his wife and kids love him, but that’s probably not the primary emotion for them just now. They’re probably feeling confused and helpless and angry, consumed by the enormous emptiness left by the sudden death of someone close to them.

His team-mates and coaches who put so much trust in him will be feeling the same way. Shay Given’s tears yesterday were testament to that.

For all their money and fame, Shay and Craig Bellamy and Robbie Savage would surely hand over every penny to have Gary back with them this morning on the training ground or in the café.

They will all be ransacking themselves this morning- was there something they could have said or done to make him change his mind? The vacuum left by his passing will be filled by countless “if onlys”.

However dark and cloying and suffocating, however hopeless it seems, suicide is not the answer. Your problems may cease in that awful, violent moment at your own hand, but the suffering of those around you would be only beginning.

But don’t do it for them. Do it for you- for your own good, pick up the phone and get professional help.

No-one is going to tell you that defeating depression will be easy, but at least it won’t be the end.

Most people were shocked by Speed’s death because the rest of his life looked so promising.

So is yours. Go live it.

www.samaritans.org

Finding a light in the darkness

Welsh football legend Gary Speed, found dead today at age 42.

As I walked back from the shops with my seven-year-old an hour or two ago, I took a moment to think about how lucky I am.

Two children, a growing business, a new house and a book nominated for two prizes.

It doesn’t get much better.

My daughter was going through a list of animals to see if there was one I could consider getting her as a pet.

Despite the grey, blustery Stockholm weather, I wouldn’t have swapped places with anyone else in the world at that moment.

Shortly afterwards, the news of the death of former Newcastle and Wales midfielder Gary Speed hit me like a punch in the stomach.

I met him briefly in Dublin once. He was different to most other footballers- self-assured but not arrogant, confident but not cocky. Intelligent, well-spoken, a gentleman.

There is nothing gentle about depression or suicide.

Depression doesn’t care about your skill, or your money, or how many medals you have.

Depression is not a passive lying-down in the face of the challenges of life.

It is a battle, a struggle. Sometimes it is a fight to the bitter end. Sometimes it doesn’t end well.

Just before I moved to Sweden a team-mate of mine took his own life. Few things have affected me as much as that did – he was a young man, a superb footballer with a beautiful young son. But none of this mattered in the end.

Aside for the grief and memories of his family and friends, all that is left is a fair play trophy named after him- ironic given that he was known as the hardest tackler on our team.

The coming days will see much written about what a great player Gary Speed was for his clubs and his country. Much will be written about depression and suicide, and a lot of it will be nonsense.

If you haven’t suffered it, you will find it hard to imagine just how suffocating and crushing it can be. It is not an illness that can be cured by simply talking to someone, or going for a walk or “copping yourself on”. It’s a lot more complex than that.

But one thing that is certain is that there are organisations who do great work in helping people who are depressed or suicidal. The likes of the Samaritans and Pieta House have a proven track record of helping people who suffer from depression to find a light in the darkness. They are deserving of your support.

As Swansea played at home to Aston Villa today, the minute’s silence was interrupted by spontaneous applause and the chant of “there’s only one Gary Speed”. It was a far more fitting tribute to a man whose goals and tackles often brought the crowds to their feet.

But it is a tragedy for the man, his family and for football that his undoubted skill and courage on the field wasn’t enough to help him defeat depression off it.

Rest in peace Gary. You were a great champion, and you will be missed.

 

Suicide won’t solve your problems, or make people love or respect you more.

Call the Samaritans or visit www.samaritans.org and get help. There is an answer, but suicide is not it.