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Time For A Conversation

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access_time 5 minutes
person by Fiona Smith

First Fortnight is currently calling for volunteers for our January 2019 festival, when for the first time, we will be hosting the European Mental Health Festival. One of our long-time volunteers, Rick Rossiter, is this week giving a lecture at Trinity College about his experience with mental health issues, difficulty with diagnosis, the ongoing battle for funding and resources, and becoming a mental health advocate. Here he gives us an introduction to his story...

"On Thursday the 15th of November I will have my first lecture at Trinity College’s School of Nursing and Midwifery starting at 5.15. It will be a conversation on my own personal journey with mental health… of how I fell through the cracks of the system, fought with the stigma, both externally and internally of having mental health disorders and of how I battled with my darkness in order to step back out into the light to become a mental health advocate, consultant and volunteer for many organisations and groups in Ireland such as See Change, Shine, Aware, Refocus: College of Psychiatrist, eHealth Ireland, Mental Health Reform and First Fortnight.

Over four years ago, there were many reasons that brought me to the decision to open up publically about my mental health. Suicides were on the rise (with four in my daughter’s school alone within three months of one another) and I was seeing how the conversation of mental health was at a tipping point. Ireland’s volunteer sector in mental health was and still is strong, countless have lent their time and knowhow, with so many events and services pushing through to help so many people. The true battle is for funding and resources from the government, to not just supplement or match the private sector or NGOs, charities or volunteer groups, but to surpass them and take leadership in dealing with a nation's mental health.

In hindsight, my lived experience with mental health illness began when I was about thirteen years old, from the changing in my moods to how people's perception of me began to shift and the first thought of suicide became prevalent to my thinking. Even though I was hospitalised several times for suicide attempts or for other mental health related issues, I was not diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder until I was 26, with a second diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder by the time I was 34. I found myself where so many people have been and still are, in limbo. Without a proper diagnosis, effective medication and treatments so many of us are left drifting further away from a life that is meant to be lived.  

Like most people with a mental health disorder, I wore a mask that shielded me away from those around me and hid what I was going through out of fear and shame. But over time, my mask wore thin and I got to the point where I broke and after struggling with life and the consequences of both actions and inaction, I had to take ownership of who I was and educate myself and seek out help so that I could move forward, not just for myself but for my family and friends.

I have had the honour and privilege of working with so many diverse people over the years and will say whole-heartedly that volunteering has been one of the greatest choices I have ever made. To help others and in doing so I have helped my own self-esteem and has kept me motivated to do more. To be a part of a shared ideal or goal can bring about change for the better for all those involved.

Back in 2015, First Fortnight asked if some See Change Ambassadors could screen the film Love & Mercy for their 2016 Festival for feedback and to write a film review. Over the years, I have written other film reviews, participated in panel discussions and have volunteered at other events throughout the festival and will happily do so again in the future. It’s great to find like-minded people."