Living with mental illness: Fiona Kennedy on why we need to hear more than the 'recovery story'

She says success stories do more harm than good to those in the depths of mental illness

Living with mental illness: Fiona Kennedy on why we need to hear more than the 'recovery story'

Stock Image | Via: Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Blogger Fiona Kennedy wrote a piece in the Irish Times last week about her opinions of the media portrayal of mental health issues in Ireland. 

In her article she spoke about her frustrations at seeing the same “limited number” of illnesses being discussed, with the same “solutions” being presented - CBT, mindfulness and exercise are regularly cited as strategies to help those coping. 

Fiona also spoke about her difficulties with recovery stories, and said she didn’t want to hear anyone else ‘opening up’ about their successful ‘battle’ with depression.

Speaking to Newstalk’s Colette Fitzpatrick – in her first radio interview since the article was published – she said that the story of mental health is not as simple as “I got sick, I did this, I got better and now everything’s great and I’m better than I was before”. 

Fiona feels that stories like this can do more harm than good to those in the depths of a mental illness. 

“For me, certainly when things were particularly bad, hearing these stories did not make me feel better”, she explained. 

“It made me feel worse because I felt.. Why can I not do that? Why is it not working for me? What am I doing wrong? 

“It nearly added to what I was feeling, rather than taking away from it.” 

She also spoke about the popular solutions regularly suggested in the media, such as taking time to do exercise or going for a walk. 

“If I’m not feeling great, but not in the depths of it, I can get myself up and I can get myself out and I can go for a walk and it will help”, she said. 

“But when things are really really bad, I just can’t do it. You might as well tell someone with a broken leg to run up the stairs.” 

While she appreciates that it is natural for people to seek solutions and to want something to make them feel better, she reiterated that “there’s no quick fix.” 

Fiona also feels that we need to stop referring to anxiety or depression as ‘mental illnesses’ and call them by their correct names. 

“We want it to have parity with physical health but we don’t talk about it in the same way. 

“We’re still really afraid to name what the problem is". 

She thinks things won’t fully change until “we can really own it, name it and talk about it as it is”. 

During the interview, Fiona also explained what she would like to see and hear more of in the media. 

She said: “we need to branch out a little more and hear about acceptance and management and the other side of it” and we need to hear it from someone who isn’t a “big name”. She wants to see the scary, messy sides of mental illness getting the spotlight. 

Fiona recently posted a video on YouTube about the media attention she received following the publication of her article, and how she had found herself turning down offers for interviews because they would take too much out of her. 

On her blog, Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers, she wrote “this morning I realised the irony of my being frustrated that the media don’t show the messier side of mental health issues, while refusing to actually go on air and speak about it”. 

She explained to Colette why she decided to do this particular interview.

“This one is not so threatening because I’m in my own home. 

“I haven’t had to travel anywhere and when I hang up the phone I can go into my kitchen and make a cup of tea, which is exactly what I’ll do.

“I’ve gotten a lot of energy from (the interview) so I’ll need to be very aware of that for the rest of the day and take the time to bring myself down a bit.”

Fiona thinks that there is huge scope for public conversation on the topic of mental illness: “I think maybe we’re leading into a bigger conversation.”

“We’re ready to take it to the next level and look at the more complex issues - how they’re treated, what we can do, and what doesn’t work.”

You can listen back to the full interview below: