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From patient to professional

Wednesday, 6th March, 2013 2:36pm

Ballincollig native Michelle Dalton was 17 when she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Now 24, Michelle is pursuing a career in psychotherapy and aims to change the way the Ireland views people with mental health problems and hopes to see policies change within pyschiatric care. As founder of the Music of the Mind Festival, Michelle is very much dedicated to the cause.

After being diagnosed with schizophrenia, Michelle was a patient of the South Lee mental health system, also known as the GF ward. Although the system worked for the young woman, she believes it could be improved.

“There is a lack of alternative supports that they have within the hospitals. There are very few pyschologists for the South Lee area. The waiting lists are very long.

"Many people I have spoken to have never been asked if they would like to see a pyschologist. Many do go to pyschiatrists, but talk therapy is important for people. Psychiatrists prescribe medicine and while that works, it's a bandaid. Psychiatry treats the symptoms not the person. There are some amazing psychiatrists out there but it's hard for patients and these professionals to work with the time they are given. This is why psychology is important.”

In today's Ireland, there is still a social stigma attached to mental health problems. Even the word schizophrenia still conjures up someone who is unstable and possibly dangerous. However, according to a study conducted by Dublin City University, people with mental health issues are 14 times more likely to be a victim of assault than to be the assailant of an attack.

“It's down to ignorance. Once a label like schizophrenia is applied to a person, discrimination begins. This hardened opinion that the public has causes patients to feel isolated, widthdraw, they loose their friends and their sense of community and that can lead to suicide.

"This mental health revolution is a human rights movement. If you openly discriminate against a woman or a certain race it's considered a hate crime, when it comes to mental health, it's accepted,” the 24 year old says.

Globally, there is still work to be done on mental health. A new policy in New York means police have begun rounding up mentally ill people in an attempt to stop violence before it is commited.

Luckily, in Cork there are many groups that are raising awareness and attempting to educate people, taking the fear and stigma out of mental health problems.  

“There are many groups such as Critical Voices and people like myself who are promoting awareness and speaking out. To rid of this stigma, people need to be educated and that starts with school. We have sex education but we are not teaching our children about mental health or how to look after it,” says the student.

In an ideal world, Michelle wishes to see the Government apologise to psychiatric patients who were sectioned and left in hospitals for decades suffering from physical health problems due to years of prescripition drugs.

“The victims of the Magdalene Laundries finally got their apology. I hope these patients who were treated so badly won't have to wait decades for theirs,” says Michelle.

She also hopes that psychology will play a bigger part in mental health so that future generations will not have to spend a lifetime taking precribed medication.

Michelle's a firm believer in the words of Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing, “Insanity - a perfectly rational adjustment in an insane world.”

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