‘You can put a cast on a broken leg but you can’t put a cast on someone’s mind’

Graham Lillis from Shannon

A 29-year-old Shannon man who has suffered from depression for the past 13 years has urged those with similar mental health issues to speak out and seek help before it’s too late. 

Reassuring those who are experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts and self-harm that they are “not alone in this fight”, Graham Lillis, who recently completed an initial 12-session programme at Pieta House, has bravely opened up about his ongoing battle, his suicide attempt and previous more ‘difficult times’. 

In his selfless attempt to help others in their darkest hour and to spread positive vibes, Graham has released a video in a bid to “put an end to the stigma surrounding mental health” and to “stop brushing it under the carpet”.

Despite an improvement in such stigma, the Shannon man has criticised the one-size fits all approach to dealing with emergencies in this country.

“If someone is in a car crash they are looked after straight away in a hospital. Someone that has attempted suicide is often left on a trolley for 24-hours until someone becomes available to help them. If you can’t see the wounds they don’t seem to understand.

“You can put a cast on a broken leg but you can’t put a cast on someone’s mind,” he said. 

Making reference to cutbacks on governmental mental health services, Graham believes that the Government “doesn’t really care about the issue of mental health”.

While he has welcomed the steady decline in suicide rates, the 29-year-old feels a lot more needs to be done for mental health in Ireland such as providing a counsellor to those in need, similar to when a lawyer is made available to a person who has been arrested and cannot afford legal aid. 

“Darkness Into Light is one of the best things the country has done, charity wise, because you see it all around that people care. They walk, they donate money because they don’t want people suffering. Pieta House is just fantastic. 

“I honestly believe that the Government needs to open their eyes and pump funds into these places to get people help. Suicide rates have decreased but it is still out there.

“If something was to happen to you at night there are the phone numbers but more needs to be done,” he said.

He is now urging people to avail of such services and while talking to a close friend or family is the starting point, people with severe mental health concerns need to take a long-term approach to tackling the underlying issues.

29-year-old Shannon native, Graham Lillis in his hometown

“You might talk to someone about something that has happened to you and you’ll feel better but you will feel better for a day or two, maybe even a week or a month, but it will come back.

“If you have gotten to a point when you honestly want to die, you honestly feel you have nothing to offer, you have to avail of services that are there. It will take time but it will help,” said Graham.

Following an attempted suicide whilst in college three years ago, Graham experienced first-hand the lack of emergency services available to those who suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Despite calling for an ambulance after a “flash of realisation” of the devastation he would leave behind for friends and family, Graham remembers sitting on a trolley whilst being handed mental health service pamphlets before “being shown the exit door”.

“I had a plan and knew that was it – I had planned out how I was going to end my life. 

“That was the moment that I realised ‘how did it get this bad?’,” he said.

Despite wanting to get better, Graham said the nature of depression meant that he rejected getting any help and he “didn’t want to go and talk to anyone” while “staying away from everything” for a period of time.

Finding it difficult to come to terms with what had happened, he felt like he was getting better even with the odd “moment here and there” before such mental health issues “came back and it wouldn’t go”.

Realising that it was an issue that was not going to go away without the required help, the Shannon man eradicated the stigma surrounding mental health from his mind and made contact with Pieta House. 

“It took 12 sessions for it to finally hit me that I can finally accept that this as something that I have and I have to get better. Otherwise it will just be the same for years to come,” added Mr Lillis.

While he welcomes the changing attitudes and open discussions surrounding mental health issues, Graham believes that becoming more active and getting out more is often just a temporary solution to the real issues, that need to be tackled head-on.

“You can do all those things but at the end of the day it is like a break from what is going on in your head. 

“I lived over in Australia for a year and a half and there were days that I didn’t want to get out of bed. I was on the other side of the world and I was supposed to be exploring it and I did not want to move, I was too afraid.

“With depression you get anxiety, you get sleep deprived, you have so much piling on top of you. People on the outside looking in say that you are always in a happy mood. If you are constantly showing someone that you are upset, they say ‘what is wrong with you?’, ‘what is the worst that can happen?’.

“Unfortunately for me, I did nearly have the worst that can happen,” he said.

Following his initial treatment programme with Pieta House, Graham was inspired to share his experiences in a bid to help others who are struggling to deal with their own mental health, whilst listening to X-Ambassdaors’ song Renegades.

With the help of his girlfriend Saida and his friend Jeff, the Shannon man recreated the song to incorporate such experiences and to help spread his positive message and help raise awareness.

According to official statistics one in five people in Ireland will suffer from depression at some point in their lives, but Graham believes the real number is a lot more than that. 

“I was thinking to myself that I’d love to get that beat and do something because it just feels right to do something about personal issues.

“When I was going through the treatment I had the idea of doing it about mental health and depression because obviously there is a lot of people out there suffering and a lot more that is led on to believe.

“It [the video] is a way to show to people out there that they aren’t alone – even though your mind is telling that you are just upset, you know that is not what is wrong with you. 

“I got it [depression] when I was when 16, that’s when I felt that something was up but I just brushed it off as mood swings or just something that a teenager goes through,” he added. 

The Shannon native said that the whole point of the video was to get the message out there that people can no longer brush such issues under carpet, following his own personal familiarity with people who have either died by suicide or attempted suicide.

“People still sweep it under the rug – they either don’t want to talk about it or they don’t know how to talk about it.

“We need to spread the positive vibes not negative ones. Know that the good days will come.

“I am now seeing the light at the end of tunnel – I can finally breath for a bit,” he concluded.

The music video, which includes footage of Graham’s recent partaking in Darkness Into Light, has received over 11,000 views online to date.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article please contact Samaritans helpline 116 123, Aware helpline 1800 80 48 48 or Pieta House on 1800 247 247

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