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10th May 2022

Mental Health Week: I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for therapy

Kat O'Connor

“I’m lucky to have a therapist who completely understands me, who listens to me, and who has helped retrain my brain.”

Michelle Obama once said, “Asking for help is always a sign of strength.” Seeking help is one of the toughest steps in mental health recovery, but the best one of all.

It’s one I’ve avoided for years because it can be quite overwhelming. Finding a therapist is no easy feat. It takes a lot to pour your heart out to a complete stranger but finding the right one feels like the weight of the world is lifted off your shoulders.

I started therapy in 2019 after years of suffering from mental health issues, including panic attacks, anxiety, and bouts of low mood. I was always so hesitant about going because I never felt like I was sick ‘enough’. I didn’t think I deserved help, but then I realised that everybody needs someone to talk to.

I look forward to my therapy sessions. I am beyond lucky to have a therapist who completely understands me, listens to me, and has helped retrain my brain.

The only downfall is my postcode.

Seeking mental health support in Ireland is only simple if you’ve recently won the lottery. Going private was my only option because the waiting lists for HSE counseling are unbelievable. As of June 2021, there were almost 4,000 people waiting to access counseling services, and some people simply can’t afford to wait that long. The sooner you seek help the better and I had no choice but to use my savings to fund my weekly sessions because I wanted to get better, I wanted to live.

Hours and hours of therapy sessions slowly started to undo the damage my anxiety disorder had done. Every week I talked and cried, I opened up and reflected and learned. I realised that I was getting better. I realised that therapy was helping.

And it was the best feeling ever.

Therapy helped me develop a strength I never thought I’d have. It gave me confidence, a place to destress, and most importantly, hope. Finding hope in the darkest of times really was the greatest thing.

My savings account may have dwindled, but my mental well-being improved.

But I was one of the lucky ones. The money I put aside for my future was needed to help my present self, but not many people are that privileged. So many people are suffering mentally because of the pandemic, but the government is only spending 6% of the health budget on mental health.

The mental health pandemic is already happening. Affordable and free therapy is our vaccine, but when will the government acknowledge that and start making changes? How many people do we have to lose to suicide before they wake up and start investing in mental health services properly?

Giving people access to support is key here. Affordable, and even free therapy, should be a no-brainer, but the Government continues to tell people to simply go for a walk.

You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken arm to just cheer up and meditate so why say it to those with mental illnesses? They’re just as, if not, more critical.

For those experiencing dark days and feeling like there’s no way out, hold on. As someone who truly didn’t want to see her 25th birthday and felt like things would never improve, I promise you it can.

This Matt Haig quote helped me when it felt like there was no way out.

“You will one-day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.”