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One in five will battle mental health problems in Northern Ireland

By Cate McCurry

Published 10/10/2016

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill
Health Minister Michelle O'Neill

One in five people in Northern Ireland will struggle with mental health issues at some point during their life, officials have said.

The warning comes as a major campaign is launched to highlight awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding the issue.

A charity that helps people battle depression has also revealed it delivered services to more than 100 people a day in Northern Ireland in the last year.

Aware said that depression is increasing and is now the leading cause of disability in the world.

To coincide with World Mental Health Day, the new campaign, Helping Others, will include television, radio, digital and outdoor adverts to encourage family and friends to support those who may be suffering.

Mary Black, assistant director of health and social wellbeing improvement with the Public Health Agency (PHA), said people in Northern Ireland are reluctant to talk about mental health issues.

"Through this campaign, we want to encourage the public to take that step and start a conversation with someone they are worried about," she said.

"One in five of us at any one time will show signs of a mental health problem. The other four will know a friend, family member or colleague who will be experiencing mental ill-health, so this is an issue that affects us all in some way.

"People may feel uncomfortable about starting the conversation or may not know what to say, so this campaign will include resources such as a leaflet and website which give tips on asking, listening and talking about mental health and maintaining that important conversation."

Mark Kelly went to one of the Londonderry-based Aware support groups after his cousin, Paddy, took his own life. Mark, who also suffered from depression for years, credits the group for helping to save his own life.

"I was first diagnosed with depression in 2009, but lived with it in my early teens," he said. "But October 2014 was a turning point for me. I started to study business at college and had a strong realisation that I needed to do something positive for myself.

"My younger cousin, Paddy, was always very supportive of me and always had a very optimistic view on things, which inspired me to help myself and do something about the depression I was living with."

When in February last year, Paddy took his own life, it was a massive shock and gave Mark the push he needed to seek help for himself.

"Not long after Paddy's death, I attended the Tuesday evening support group in the Aware Offices in Derry," he said.

"I reached out to a lot of groups for help, but it was Aware that reached back to me.

"Aware has a real sense of community and understanding with no patronising or negativity towards people suffering with depression and bipolar disorder.

"Aware saved my life and for that I always be thankful."

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "It is important that society is open about discussing mental health and that people are willing to talk to friends and family if they feel concerned about their mental health. For many people, being able to talk to someone they trust about how they are feeling could be the first step towards recovery."

Peter McBride from the mental health charity Niamh said: "We in Niamh have long been committed to changing negative attitudes and behaviour towards those with experience of mental illness."

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