Monday, 30 April 2018

The 8th amendment is a mental health issue

Tomorrow, I'll begin work on a mental health awareness campaign for another year. The aim is to wear a symbol of support and hope; show a willingness to talk about mental health and end the stigma around mental illness. But this May the message could easily be lost amongst terms like '1 in 5', 'My Body My Choice' and 'Repeal the 8th'.

You see May is also about another huge issue in Ireland – Repealing the 8th amendment of the Irish Constitution to allow for legislation to be brought forward for access to abortion. At the moment, a woman in Ireland can only access an abortion if there medical practitioners agree that their is an immediate risk to her health. As a result, roughly 9 women travel from Ireland to the UK for an abortion EVERY DAY, and another 3 women order pills online each day.

Both issues will be competing for national attention during the month of May. But to me both issues are inextricably linked.

You cannot support a woman’s mental health by forcing her to travel abroad for help and support.

You are not protecting a woman’s mental health by forcing her to take abortion pills alone, in secret.

Support for mental health includes promoting a person’s autonomy. Allowing them to make the decisions they need to make for both their physical and mental health with help, care and support. You hear a lot about self care in the field of mental health, but by restricting a person’s choices, you’re not supporting them.

By forcing someone to remain pregnant against their will, you’re detrimentally damaging their mental health and causing emotional distress. By calling them criminals, you’re chipping away at their mind and sense of self.

If you are someone who is already struggling with a mental illness, the 8th amendment means your only option is to keep the baby, or seek illegal help. At a time when your number one focus should be looking after yourself and recovering, you now have the added pressure of pregnancy with no choices or other options freely available.

The lack of safe and accessible abortion has been linked to increased risk of suicide. By denying them a choice, girls and women can feel left without options or without hope.
  • PS. There is no correlation between abortion and increased mental health problems.
  • Research stating abortion damages a person’s mental health or causes mental illness has been proven to be unfounded and inaccurate.
  • Research actually proves no link between having an abortion and developing mental health difficulties. (Source
  • This one’s been fact checked by enough journos thanks very much. 
Keeping the 8th means forcing women to try to access the care and support they need in secret and in fear. For those who can afford to travel, it comes with a huge price tag - one that could take weeks of saving to get to, or growing debt to repay after. Debt is a well-known contributor to mental health problems.
From Chris Noone
Keeping the 8th means forcing women to carry a fatal foetal abnormality to term, despite the heartache and severe mental toll it entails to know your baby isn’t going to survive. These are much wanted babies, but rather than allowing women to try again, they're forced to stay pregnant.

Keeping the 8th means forcing rape victims to carry the product of their rape for nine months. Pro-lifers call this ‘healing’, I call it traumatic mental torture.

Keeping the 8th means forcing a woman to remain pregnant unless a number of medical professionals agree that her life is at immediate risk (e.g. when a woman is about to take her own life). Keeping the 8th often means forcing a woman to suicide.

Abortion is a reality for Irish women – it’s happening both on our shores and abroad. But keeping it illegal means that you don’t value a woman’s physical or mental health. It means that you're denying her proper and safe medical supervision, aftercare and support. It means you’d rather see a woman suffer than make a decision you don't personally agree with.

But because she suffers in silence, you can pretend that it’s not happening. You can pretend that you don’t know a woman this has affected. That her forced pregnancy ‘helped her’. That she's okay now. That there are no mental effects of this. But she aches and she hurts.

Beibhinn Farrell, a psychotherapist, says this all much better than I ever could in her post 11 reasons why saving the 8th does not protect women or babies based on scientific facts.

The referendum on repealing the 8th amendment is taking place on 25 May. Make sure you're eligible to vote by 8 May at Check the Register.

Find out more about the campaign to repeal the 8th from Together for Yes.

Find out more about how the 8th amendment affects mental health from Psychologists for Choice.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

What I've been up to

I haven't visited my blog once in the past six weeks. There's been zero blog posts, few updates on Twitter and, to be honest, no motivation whatsoever to lay any thoughts down in writing. After a January & February full of blogging inspiration, my motivation died a quick and painful death on 1st March.

I haven't had the energy to write. Or the head space to think about writing. No ideas popped into my head. There was no advice or tips I wanted to share. I was just trying to get by, and daily life took over.

And yesterday, while pottering around my desk and doing some tidying up, I decided to write and share what's been going on in my head over the past six weeks.

*Here's the thing about blogging and running your own little part of the Internet. It's fun and therapeutic and you meet incredible like-minded people, but it can also bring stress and a sense of responsibility. My silence over the past six weeks made me feel like a failure at times, and I criticised myself harshly for not being able to write. I felt guilty for running out of meaningful things to say when it comes to mental health. But, I also know that it's MY little part of the Internet. I should be able to write and take breaks, and come back refreshed, when I want, without any sense of guilt. It should be okay to step away if that's what you need at any time. So while I want to fill you in on what's been happening over the past few weeks, I also know that I will no doubt dip in and out of the blog in future. This has never been a full-time gig for me; I've gained nothing from my writing other than clearing my head and gaining your support in response. So thank you, but please be patient with me.*  

So here's an update on what I've been up to for the past six weeks: 

Trapped for four days in intense Storm Emma.
There's a lot to say for fresh air, space and sunshine for your mental health. Being trapped with 25 kids for four days was a new experience, and at times suffocating. During the storm I needed a break away from people to clear my head, and so started my gradual shift away from social media and the blog. It was a much needed time out. But when the storm ended, I found I still needed space.

Avoided Social Media
Lately, social media, but particularly Twitter, has been difficult for me to use. The trolls got to me and I found myself suffocating beneath their vile. Whether it's vulgar discussions about rape trials, or cruel comments about murderous women who want an abortion, I couldn't take it anymore. My mental health was taking a hit.So I took a step back and stopped logging into the app. And it was good for the soul. Instead, I exercised, caught up on TV shows, and read loads of books. I had me time, and I'm so grateful for the space staying off social media gave my head.

Started tracking my mental health
On 1st April, I decided to start keeping track of my moods and feelings on a daily basis. I'd been promising myself for months that I would start doing this, but the time finally felt right. I found this fab template on Pinterest and printed out a couple of copies for the next few months.
At the end of every day I would colour in a segment of the circle with the colour that matched how I'd felt that day. The results surprised me. I'd expected a lot more sadness; partially because that's still how I see myself -- 'Sad Zoe'. The number of days where I was feeling content or happy, and just generally not tired/sick or sad without reason, made me realise that the time is right to start talking to my doctor about coming off my medication.

Talked about abortion a lot
Ireland's upcoming referendum to remove the 8th amendment from our constitution has been the only thing I've been able to talk about since the date was set. The 8th amendment equates the life of the unborn to that of the mother's, restricting access to abortion in Ireland under any circumstance, unless a woman can be proven to be suicidal. As a result, abortion in Ireland has been exported abroad, primarily to England, or imported in the form of illegal abortion pills. This referendum is our chance to finally repeal such a discriminatory law, and its injustice is all I've been able to talk about to friends, family and coworkers. This must obviously make me a bore, but I've decided to put my money and my time where my mouth is. I've donated to the campaign, bought from the shop, and have signed up to start volunteering and canvassing to secure a YES vote on May 25th.

Been on holiday to Malaga 
And amidst all of this, I took a four day holiday to Malaga. It was an incredible city break with sunshine and castles and the beach in a city I didn't know. I spent time exploring and just soaking up the atmosphere, eating tapas and drinking ridiculously cheap wine. Perhaps this is the break I needed to spark my writing?

Until next time, and hopefully it won't be so long,