Manchester based photography student talks about a topic so close to home for himself: Mental Health.
He expresses the importance of awareness of it in Jersey.
Words and photography: Chris Vieira
My name is Chris Vieira, I am 21 years young and currently finishing off my second year studying Photography at The Manchester School of Art. I was born and raised in Jersey but I come from a Portuguese background – my dad is from Machico and my mum is from Funchal, Madeira. I have a very talented older sister Jess, who plays football (embarrassingly much better than I ever could) for the island. I contacted Gallery after reading Debby Stainforth’s article on KONY 2012, realising that if I wanted to, I could have a voice too.
The reason I am writing this short article, (amidst the endless amounts of Uni work I have creeping up on me) is because ever since I can remember, a serious mental health issue has affected me and challenged the way I have been brought up. I personally don’t have a mental illness, but someone I love very much suffers from Bipolar Disorder, and when someone so close to you suffers (for lack of a better term) from such a severe mental illness, it doesn’t just affect them, it affects everyone around them too, which is precisely why I’m writing this today.
Let me start by telling you a bit about the disorder. Formally known as Manic Depression, Bipolar Disorder is when someone will experience severe mood swings, far greater than the average person will. In the low or ‘depression’ stage, the person will feel intense sadness and despair and in 1 out of 5 cases, consider and attempt suicide. In the high or ‘manic’ stage, the person will feel a false sense of extreme happiness and elation. These mood swings can vary from one another for as long as weeks or months, and other times it can change within seconds. I haven’t just Googled what happens – I’ve witnessed this first hand.
Growing up on such a small island has both its pros and cons. Like everywhere in the world, people can be cruel, and talking about something as sensitive as mental illness can seem daunting and very scary. I know that when I was growing up I often found it difficult to open up and talk about things I was going through. Luckily for me though, I have the best older sister any younger brother could ask for, and she always has my back whenever I feel upset or alone. Similarly, I have a big bunch of very awesome friends, but sometimes talking about your problems to them can be difficult when you just don’t want to burden them – everyone has their own problems to deal with – that’s life. If you’re not as fortunate as me and don’t feel like you have strong support around you there is help you can seek elsewhere, which brings me to the main point of this article – the support that is provided in the island which you can get if you are feeling vulnerable, depressed or alone.
Considering my whole life has been affected by a mental illness, it came as a surprise to me when I really thought about how little I knew about the amount of support that is provided in the island. It made me realise that there just isn’t enough awareness related to mental health issues in Jersey. Because of this, it’s not surprising that after speaking to a lot of my friends about it, many of them didn’t really know much about Bipolar Disorder or any mental illness for that matter, quite worrying when 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. What I didn’t realise though, is that there are some great organisations run in Jersey which offer free help for any individual.
Founded in 2008, ‘YES’ is a Youth Enquiry Service which offers free confidential advice on all kinds of topics for 14-25 year olds, varying from drug and alcohol abuse to relationship advice. Don’t be afraid to talk to these people, they are all very warm and friendly. Some are volunteers, they’re not even getting paid for it, just genuine people wanting to give you a break from the problems life can throw at you. All the information you need is on their website www.yes.je. If you are worried about being spotted walking in to the centre, which can be quite likely in little Jersey, there is a number on the website that you can call if you would prefer to do it over the phone. More specifically, if you feel like you are suffering from a mental illness, or know someone who is and would like to find out more information, visit www.mindjersey.org. They are an amazing organisation offering their services to any individual; they provide information on any mental health problem ranging from how to deal with stress to severe mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia, a defective disorder that affects thinking, feeling and behaviour.
Mental illness doesn’t have to seem like such a morbid topic, millions of people have some mental health related problem and still live very normal lifestyles. Clever man Stephen Fry was ranked #44 in the 2008 Telegraph’s list ‘the 100 most powerful people in British culture’ and he suffers from Bipolar Disorder too. The Grinch, The Mask and Bruce Almighty’s funny man Jim Carey also suffers from the same illness. One of classical music’s finest composers to have ever lived, Ludwig van Beethoven, was also believed to have suffered from Bipolar Disorder. Music historians world wide considered the best electric guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix, as just another great legend to add to the list. The names can go on and on! My mum is another example of someone who lives a relatively normal life like everyone else, embodying such great will power in her most challenging times – it’s no doubt that she is the biggest inspiration in my life and the reason I am sat in the library writing this right now.
So don’t be afraid to talk about it, so many more people suffer from mental health related problems than you know; so let’s talk about it more so that it doesn’t have to seem like such a daunting subject. I am hoping that after reading this, you won’t think that you’re as alone as you think you might be.
Want to get involved?
Check out www.mentalhealth.org.uk
Mental Health Awareness week is coming up in May and it would be a great opportunity for people to start getting involved!