I moved to the Isle of Man when I was nine years old, from a similarly sized town in south-west Ireland. I have been on Island for over 18 years now, and automatically qualify for the coveted title of ‘stayover’, together with whatever subtext comes along with that.
In that time, I have navigated a couple of years of primary school education and the entirety of my secondary education here, before heading to University. I have, in an effort to repay that trust and belief put in me by the Manx government, returned to live on the Island and continue to live, work and pay taxes here as a Manx advocate.
Throughout that time, I have seen and experienced the Manx approach to Mental Health from every possible angle. I have received counselling for abuses I experienced as a child through to my early teenage years, and I have received care from GP to specialist level for the mental health struggles I live with both daily and periodically since I was first diagnosed with a mental health disorder in 2006, at the age of 16.
I have seen innumerable psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists, spent a period of time in the Nobles Hospital Psychiatric ward, and in more recent months have turned to mental health advocacy and activism which has allowed me to speak with many people of all walks of life about their experiences.
Throughout my own experience, and anecdotally through the experiences of others, the one aspect of mental health which tends to pervade all those experiences on the Isle of Man, and which still affects me even now, is that of ‘isolation’.
The Isle of Man can feel like an incredibly lonely place, which might come as little surprise to those living on a small ‘rock’ in the middle of the Irish sea. In a place where the ‘six degrees of separation’ has been reduced to an average of less than one, it is very easy to feel alone or misunderstood.
It is somewhere that, if you don’t know someone personally, you definitely know someone who does. That isn’t always a good thing. Just because you’re surrounded by people doesn’t mean you’re in company.
Talking to someone about the state of our mental health is the first step of safely dealing with mental health, and can be one of the most difficult and most important to overcome. It is an unfortunate fact that our loved ones and medical professionals are fairly useless at mind reading. This makes accessing the treatment we need to be nearly impossible when we cannot find the words to explain how we feel.
The idea that nobody will listen to us when we do try to speak to them, or even understand what we are dealing with if we do try to speak up, can be crippling. The thought that people will judge us negatively and think less of us as a result of it can be even moreso.
It is something that I have allowed myself to believe all too often, especially on an Island like this. It is a place where everyone loves a bit of skeet (gossip, for those not in the know), and where everyone seems to know everything about everyone else’s business.
As a result of that, I have feared talking to many people, from friends to employers to family, purely out of concern that word would get around that I am ‘mental’. I was afraid that if anything to do with my diagnosis, or treatment, or even personal struggles became public, nobody would treat me fairly as a result.
As someone who was looking to proceed as a lawyer on the Isle of Man, I looked at the tight-knit group of lawyers who made up the Manx Bar and allowed myself to believe that if it became common knowledge there then it would create an immovable barrier to the advancement of my career. I was afraid that people would think I was incapable of carrying out my job to the best of my abilities as a result.
I saw myself, through what I thought were their eyes, as a liability.
The truth here is that I was only joining the club, and I was in no way an exception.
I have had sleepless nights, worrying that I would be irreversibly labelled and wear a badge of shame for the rest of my time on the Island. I allowed myself to buy into the stigma surrounding mental health, and the embarrassment that we sometimes find comes along with it.
The knowledge that your business can very quickly become someone else’s business (whether you like it or not), can lead many, all too often, to decide to simply keep their thoughts to themselves instead of speaking to someone about it.
When we get a thorn in our palm, we don’t ignore it and assume it will go away. We all know how it has the potential to swell, embed itself deeper and become infected, and so we do everything we can to pull it out once we know it’s there.
Why would we treat our minds, with its infinite number of complexities, any differently?
Look out for Part II coming soon.
If you are affected by any of the issues highlighted in this article, local signposting is available here.
If you are facing a time of crisis, do not wait, contact your GP, A&E or the Crisis Team on 642860.