In these fast-moving times, when most of us seem to have less time than we once had for simple pleasures like a healthy walk, issues around mental health continue to increase. We have all all seen the TV ads urging us to look after our personal mental health and nobody could question the importance of these messages, or the value of educational websites such as yourmentalhealth.ie. And yet, often it is only when these issues strike close to home that we really sit up and pay attention. It’s too easy to look at these adverts and think they were made for the benefit of other, more vulnerable people. In that context, the decision of the Castleconnell-based councillor Shane Clifford to speak so honestly to the Leader this week about his own struggle should be applauded.
With a first-preference vote of 1,338, Shane was comfortably elected as a first-time candidate in the local elections last May. Many of those who put a Number 1 by his name did so because they believed he was a breath of fresh air – he came across as young, bright, hard-working, somebody who wanted to make a difference. He is, of course, all of those things – but like the rest of us he’s also human. Donal O’Regan’s powerful interview should be required reading, because it is rare that somebody in a public position locally is so movingly honest about tough times in his life. Many suffer in silence, too afraid to show what they perceive as weakness in letting the world know they are not alright. Tragically, some find their feelings so overwhelming that they do not survive.
Shane talks with real candour about the problems that put him in a place he did not recognise, struggling all the while to grasp what was wrong with him. Although he is not quite fully recovered, his mental health is now vastly improved, after he put himself in the care of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services. Thanks to professional help, he now looks back at a traumatic experience with an understanding of how he ended up in a dark place.
It is not easy to do what Shane Clifford has done this week – laying his personal life bare for his fellow Limerick people to see, including those who elected him. But in doing so, he challenges the stigma of mental health problems and helps to break it down. He also sets an example for others who may have some of the symptoms that caught up with Shane and sent his world crashing. It is a scary place to be. “You know you should ask for help,” Shane says, “but you can’t.” Thankfully, he finally did. It is, he concludes in his interview, very hard to take that step and admit you need help – “but please do”.
In the long run, Shane Clifford’s experience will make him a better public representative. But for now, he can be proud of himself for having had the courage to be honest, so that others in Limerick might be spared some of what he and his family went through.
We wish him well.