Comedian PJ Gallagher has said learning that mental illness is a normal thing to go through made it much easier for him to deal with.
The Dubliner spent 11 weeks in hospital this year after suffering a severe breakdown in his mental health.
He was admitted to St Patrick’s in December and remained under the hospital’s care until March.
Speaking to Stefanie Preissner on Late Breakfast this morning, he said he was terrified of what going into hospital might mean for his career or his friendships – but in the end, it was a life-or-death decision.
The 45-year-old said his experience in the months since has shown in how normal it is to struggle with your mental health.
“To be honest, the normality of it is what has really helped me,” he said.
“I told you about it this time last year and all that was important to me was the cover-up.
“No one can find out, you know? No one can know I’m struggling and no one can know I’m in hospital and that was because I had all these ideas of what that meant – being worthless afterwards and being constantly seen as someone who is fragile afterwards; when you’re coming out of hospital, people thinking they’ll have to be on their tippy toes around you.
“That is just not the case. In fact, it is the other way around. People just say, ‘good or you’ and ‘fair play’ and I guess, for me, remembering how normal it is helps.”
Gallagher said he did not know what to expect when he first checked in to the hospital.
“I had One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in my head and Nurse Ratchet and so on,” he said. “Crazy things.”
“You go into hospital and it is literally like a retreat. I loved it. I want to go there every year for a week.
“I know that sounds mad but I do. It just so normal. It is normal people going through a normal thing and when you realise that and you’re not afraid to talk about that anymore, it becomes a lot easier, you know?”
The actor said it is important to distinguish between taking care of your mental health and treating a mental illness.
“I felt excluded from the whole mental health conversation because everyone was saying, put on your runners, go for a walk, go for a sea swim, eat green food and for me I was saying, I am so far beyond that,” he said.
“My mental health isn’t struggling. I am mentally ill. I am sick. I am really, really sick. So that conversation didn’t feel like it was clicking with me.
“Getting out and doing anything is good for your mental health but when you’re sick, getting your hair cut and going for a walk isn’t going to help.
“I prefer to say mentally ill now because it just feels more real.”
Gallagher was admitted to St Patrick’s just before Christmas last year but was released on a short-term basis over the holidays.
He said coming out of the hospital for those few days was a “terrible Idea” – leading to him needing to start over again when he returned.
He said this year’s Christmas has been “so much better”.
“I can’t believe the mood I am in this year compared to how I was last year,” he said. “I just can’t believe the difference.”
If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this article, you can contact the Samaritans on freephone 116 123.