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Ireland's youth mental health services can save lives - and should be minded

As a schoolboy, Bobby Edgar self-harmed and described himself as being “alone in a crowd”. Today, TheJournal.ie meets a confident, ambitious and active 19-year-old. So, what changed?

Bobby Edgar
Bobby Edgar
Image: Jigsaw

IN 2010, BOBBY Edgar was a 17-year-old fifth-year-student suffering from depression. He self-harmed and described himself as being “alone in a crowd”.

Today, he talks about his aspirations, action plans and “genuine friends”.

The stark difference in his wellbeing is owing to a mental health service that is part-funded by the Health Service Executive.

Ireland’s health service has come in for a drumming – often quite rightly –  in the past for not providing adequate levels of care to the country’s young people. Just this week, a raft of cuts across various services were announced which will impact patients countrywide.

But there are also many positives to be found within that somewhat ailing system. Luckily for Bobby, he found some of that good in Jigsaw, a programme developed by Headstrong, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health.

“It is a cliché but the best thing to ever happen to me was to reach out and talk to someone. That feeling – it was alleviating. It was just an amazing experience to ask someone for help,” Bobby explained to TheJournal.ie. “And after asking, there were people there openly offering that help. It was different to anything I had ever experienced before. I thought it would be weird, or strange, or awkward. But it was the absolute opposite – it was really comfortable.”

After spending the previous two years “in a really bad place”, Bobby went along to a Jigsaw centre after being told about it by a friend.

“I was going through a hard time. I was hanging out with a lot of people but they weren’t like me,” he recalled. “They weren’t people I really liked – or that even liked me. One of the people I was hanging around with was also verbally abusive towards me.”

As just one example, Bobby tells a story about eating lunch and immediately being called fat.

As a young teenager, he had also started self-harming, a dangerous practice of cutting oneself which he describes as “almost addictive” because of “that rush”.

“I was alone in a crowd. I didn’t talk to my family and I didn’t feel like I had friends I could talk to,” he continues.

I wanted to talk to someone but what I really wanted was for someone to listen – not only to actively listen but to understand as well. It is hard to find that when you’re 17.

He found that person in Mike at his local Jigsaw service. “After a couple of months of volunteering, I decided that I needed to talk to someone about the stuff going through my head.”

It was “the first time ever” that he had spoken about what he was feeling and once he did, everything changed.

“We made out a plan and then things started to get better,” remembers Bobby. “I started developing aspirations, figuring out where I wanted to be.”

The next step

One of the defining features of Jigsaw is that people under the age of 18 can attend sessions without the express permission of their parents. Teenagers can attend the spaces up to three times before they are required to tell their mother, father or guardian.

For Bobby it was “a few months” before he told his parents that he was suffering from depression or that he was self-harming.

“Obviously there was a lot of worry but they reacted well to bad news,” he explains. “My mom had noticed cuts and scratches on me but I always had an excuse ready. After I told her, she thought she should have realised or known more but I was good at hiding it.”

Although he still has what he calls “dark times” because depression is something that will “stick with him”, Bobby says the way he is open about his feelings has actively changed how he reacts to those moments.

“It got better before the start of sixth year but I had a bad patch at Christmas. Since then though, it has been smooth sailing. I know if I am going through a bad time, I need to talk to someone, have an action plan as well as something that will keep me busy.”

The 19-year-old hasn’t cut himself in over a year-and-a-half, stating that he has “learnt to resist it”.

Now he says he has genuine friends that he feels comfortable with – either hanging out with casually or to talk to. He has moved away from the person who used to be “a bit abusive”.

A message to Ireland’s leaders

After such a positive engagement with Ireland’s youth mental health services, Bobby is keen to see the system thrive. In the midst of cutbacks and budget targets, he says his message to the Government would be that services like Jigsaw are “absolutely necessary”.

“We won’t have a nation if we don’t have a young people in a healthy state of mind. Just look at our suicide rates. We need to concentrate on keeping as healthy as possible. These services should be minded.”

Earlier this week, a chain of private clinics said it had experienced a 30 per cent spike in the number of children it was treating for social dysfunction, withdrawal, depression and other mental health issues because of the current economic climate.

“I think the recession is a big part of what is going on in young people’s heads these days,” agrees Bobby. “It is more difficult to be a young person in Ireland today because things like getting employment and emigration are genuine worries.”

He himself is currently unemployed but is busy planning a future which will include a number of media training courses, as well as work with mental health groups Jigsaw and Headstrong.

Related: Recession leads to surge in mental health issues in children>

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