Survivors History archive of a newsletter archived in the international archive.

Irish Advocacy Network

December 2002


After many months of rigours promotion and development throughout the country, changes are afoot. Mr Paddy McGowan has been appointed as director of Advocacy and Mr Mervyn Tierney has been appointed Director of Development. Furthermore the five Regional Advocates are now in place, each bounded by geographic areas and those of the Regional Health Authorities.

The Head office in Monaghan is now fully operational with the appointment of 2 administration staff (Breda Prunty & Orla Trainor), who are there to answer your queries along with administration duties. On September 23rd/24th we held an Induction Day for the five regional advocates to clarify job description and discuss their various needs. The introduction was tutored by Ms Martha McClelland and Mr Marty Daly, Chairperson for I.A.N.

Both Paddy and Mervyn have been involved in ongoing negotations with the health boards and I am pleased to announce contract/ service agreements have been signed for advocate's services.

Development of advocacy is a continuous and an ongoing process with many new groups currently awaiting training. Those groups that have been trained/set up, please report any concerns or queries you may have to Orla re: set up/development or any other concerns by January 31st 2003.

Head Office phone number: 047 38918

Regional Advocates

Patrick Murphy -- North Eastern Health Board

Brian Hartnett -- Midlands Health Board

Margaret O'Connor - Western Health Board

Noreen Fitzgibbon-- Southern Health Board

Colette Nolan-- Eastern Region Health Authority


We are currently in the process of having a mini booklet printed that will be titled "Information is the best medicine of all". We hope this will be a useful tool in combating lack of information surrounding medications and help an individual to better understand their medications by consulting with a Doctor or Pharmicist. Remember, we are just a phone call away.

"I am enjoying my challenge and as I heard it once said my experience can become a great asset, 'been there, done that;"


In the beginning I was very nervous about starting work as an advocate. There was a lot of "fear" within, a feeling of inferiority. I was afraid of meeting these professionals. I think it stems back to my days when I felt like the "downtrodden". But I came to see that I was well and able to do the job in hand.

It has been a slow process initially. Paddy and myself visited programme managers and nursing officers to work out protocols, to tell them what we are about and arrange to get ward access. At present I am operating in ward 15 at St. Davnetts, Our Ladys Navan and St. Brigids Ardee. I have met with Damien Murray(Nursing Officer), Margaret Fleming(Programmes Manager), Pat Black(Chief Nursing Officer), Geoff Day(Deputy C.E.O Northern Health Board).

When arriving on wards I spoke about the Irish Advocacy Network and told them what we are about. I feel it will take time to be accepted as a useful resource. But my main aim is to get known to clients: let them know what we are about. That we are independent from the Health Boards, that I am not employed by the services, that we are 100% user led/user run confidential. When entering the wards I speak to all staff, then meet with clients. At present I have mainly provided listening ear support information. It will take time for me as I am new to the area. I have also met with various voluntary organisations, networking, getting involved with Suicide Prevention, Odyssey 2000 and support groups in Dundalk.

I am enjoying the challenge, and as I heard it once said that my experience can become a great asset, "been there done that". Who knows best, but easy does it.

Road to Recovery

After many months of staring into the "black hole of Calcutta" I can now finally see the light shining through the mist.

Having been prescribed various types of medication I have earned my position in the medical model, but without the help and understanding of my colleagues around me I question how far on the road to recovery I would be.

Peer support has helped me identify what exactly I am going through. Sharing of symptoms, that others feel or have felt similar, has helped alleviate my fears.

A total reliance on medication is not enought for me and having worked here in the office has helped fill a void. Being busy undertaking simple tasks has helped fill my days and brought about a sense of achievement. The office hums with a sense of purpose and I am truly glad to be part of this purpose. I am now medicalised with a diagnosis of BiPolar and if any person wants to contact me I am now available at Rooskey and will share my experiences.


The Time is Right

The Irish Advocacy Network was born in November 1999, in Derry, N. Ireland. A number of people came together under the umbrella of Mind Yourself, a peer led and run advocacy organisation in Derry. Martha McCleeland, myself and others came together and thought about how we were going to develop the process of peer advocacy on an island wide basis. We talked over a number of meetings on how this was best-- to bring the concept of advocacy right across the island in the mental health field. And we drew the conclusion that the only way we could do this effectively was to organise a conference.

That conference took place in Derry in 1999. At that conference we drew together approximately 270 individuals, most of those individuals were people who use the mental health services or survivors. Although the term "Mental Illness" is something that we never liked, but it was the term that was used within a medical context. We would rather have seen the people who came to this conference termed as survivors. It was a hard task to try and bring survivors together on an island wide basis for the first time, but we set out about doing that. Paddy Masterson and myself travelled the country on a two-week basis calling with health boards all across the Republic of Ireland. Talking with survivors, talking to health board staff and mental health employees.

At first nobody really wanted to listen to us, nobody really wanted to engage, the doors were quite firmly closed. Although in saying that we also encountered some very good people within the mental health professions who were prepared to listen and try and understand where we were coming from and did in many ways support us. The conference was pulled together, the people attended. Survivors discussed for the first two days with no other outsiders and allowed people time and space to tell their own stories. We all needed to start to understand that we are not alone. There are a lot of us out there.

And I must say that it was probably one of the most liberating experiences of my life to date. Seeing all these people coming, making their way to Derry from all parts of Ireland. People who had been given no hope that they 1. could make it there, or 2. that they could survive within that arena without a range of professionals overseeing them. But we overcame it and there lay the birth stone for the Network. The Steering Committee was elected democratically for the conference, a management committee of 12 individuals, 6 from the north, 6 from the south, 7 women and 5 men. Out of that beginning the Network was born.

The task in front of us was enormous: where do we go, what do we do, how do we start, all these questions posed in front of us. Once the 3 day conference finished, I had been elected to chair the Network so the task began getting out on the road. Knocking on doors, making the acquaintances, talking to people,explaining the process taking the fear away of survivors actually doing something for themselves. We did this with very little money, in fact we had no finances, we had no understanding of where we were going to draw finances from. We had no understanding of who to approach or what road to go about it, but that did not deter us. We moved on, we did the visits, knocked on the doors, had the arguments and the debates, but we still managed in our own way to move the process forward on a daily basis. And for the next 3 years it was much of the same. It was about getting out there, meeting the people, talking to survivors, persuading survivors that we had to come together to form a Network of people and that we had to bring advocacy to the fore within mental health.

We were fortunate in the fact that we had a training programme developed by Mind Yourself, with input from Marty Daly from LAMP in Belfast, and myself and my own background. Martha put a lot of work in putting the training programme together. That training programme has been invaluable in training peer advocates north and south and this process in itself has been the tool that has liberated a lot of people. We would fully understand that there is a lot more people that could and will avail of the training and we would see that as our way forward, our move, something that we've been doing for ourselves, by ourselves. With our own combined strengths, the training will lead us towards our own recovery path. We have fostered the concept of peer advocacy on this island, we have fostered the concept of recovery, and we have fostered the sense of our own liberation. No longer do we see ourselves as oppressed people, no long do we see ourselves as being on the margins of society.

The Network has grown in many ways and has still a lot of growing to do. I would equate the Network at present to be in its adolescence and like any adolescent we will make mistakes, we will then learn by our mistakes and move on. But no more can we go back to being victims of our oppression, no more can we go back to being a people who are not understood, no more can we go back to being defenceless. We have to really take power again, to take our own individual power and then combine our collective power. We are all human beings who have been hurt in many ways and some of the people we have come into contact with over the years have been so brutalised and so demeaned by the system and by society. For too many years we have been silent, for too many years we've hid away and locked ourselves in rooms and institutions away from society. In many ways we had to do that for our own defence, for our own survival. That has to change. We have the strength within ourselves individually and collectively to know that if we want to change the system, if we want to get equality, justice and our own liberty we will have to fight. That fight has already started.

A lot of work has to be done and a lot of work is being done. We have to start at societies attitudes towards people with emotional distress. We have to start with families, to make families understand that this is not the end of the road, this is only the starting point. This is only somewhere where we are at that minute and that we're moving towards that change.

We have to start to work with professionals and in particular with psychiatrists to give them an understanding that people can and will recover if they are given the right support. Medication is only one tool that can be used within recovery. We also have to demonstrate that there are other models out there, that there are pathways that we can use. Maybe it takes more time to put them in place, maybe it takes a little more skill, maybe it takes a little more understanding but most of all it has to be genuine. We have to play our part in making this happen. We can no longer afford the luxury of sitting back and saying everything is wrong. We know the things that are wrong but we have to take responsibility, we have to be the foot soldiers of change. We have to be the very people that are going to lead by example. In that perspective we have to demonstrate that we can be the architects of our own change.

The Network has moved along very, very slowly, step by step. We are now in the position that we have 9 full time employees including 5 regional advocates, an advocacy director, a director of development and 2 administration staff. A team that is starting to grow. Hopefully in the years to come that team will grow to a bigger work force. We are hoping that we can attract volunteers, trained volunteers, support volunteers, to bring this organisation to the fore of the mental health field. Our aims is to have as many advocates on the ground paid to do the jobs, skilled, trained professionals within their job, within their role. But we understand that is going to take time, a lot of time, and hard work. But we need these people as this entire organisation is survivor to survivor.

We have started from a base point but need people and goodwill to drive this forward. We need to know that in our time of distress there is a strong network there, that can support and assist us in our own individual recovery and also in the protection of our rights and liberty. For too long we have depended on others to do that for us. Some very good people have done it; some very good people have stuck their head above the parapet and within the professions have lost the chances of promotion. Careers have been shattered and ruined because they said enough is enough and that they had the humanity to come in behind us.

But now it is our time. Everyone has a time; everyone gets a time that they have to stand up and take control for themselves again. I believe that time is now, now that it is started it can't stop. We must move forward and can change a lot of things within our own lives. By changing things within our own lives, that will ultimately lead us to be in a position that we can enable others to change things within their lives. The Network will always be here. "We're in it together" Breda Lawless said on one of my very first meetings; "We're in it together for the long haul". For history dictates to us that this struggle is going on for the long haul". For history dictates to us that this struggle is going on for hundreds of years. We haven't really moved in the last 150 years but now we have the opportunity and the tools, the skills and more than anything the people. Time does many things. Time has taught use to be silent, to be defenceless, when to be quiet, but time can also be used the other way. The time is right, the time is opportune; the time is ours and if it is ours now, we can move with a strong united voice. This organisation is the voice of survivors of emotional distress throughout the island of Ireland.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all people who have used mental health services, all people who have a mental health diagnosis, all people who want to see change within the present system to unite under the banner of the Irish Advocacy Network. Then we will become a strong voice, a voice that won't go away, a voice that will represent people on this island, a voice that will be the driving force of all our liberation. People who have mental health problems have been victimised. The victimisation has to stop and here.

Life can and will be good. Life will throw certain obstacles in our way but because we are united in our determination to change the day to day problems that people meet. The very fact that we are there to support one another, that will be our rallying call. We will support, we will enable people to emancipate themselves, to be able to break the chains of our past without forgetting its history. We can look into the sunlight of tomorrow and say yes; yes the Irish Advocacy Network as the determination to be the voice and the watchdog of people who encounter emotional distress. So once again I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have stood shoulder to shoulder and also the opportunity to thank all those who at first had problems around us being on the ground, around the idea of us being organised. When people support each other, the justification of our fight and our struggle is justified, rightly justified and it can never be taken away from us. we never again will be prisoners of our past destiny. Onward and forward we will march. We will march to the sound of feet, and those feet are the survivors of emotional distress. The time is now, the time is right and I would encourage everyone to take that step, that first step and reap the rewards of your own liberty and that of your fellow survivors.

Paddy McGowan - Director of Advocacy

Blue Genes

"I am sure there are no genes to carry the feelings of worth. It is learned, and the family is where it is learned.................... an infant coming into the world has no past, no experience in handling himself, no scale on which to judge his own worth. He must rely on the experiences he has with people around him and the messages they give him about his worth as a person."

W.D. Winnicott

A Word About Genitics and Mental Health

Many people believe - or fear that mental illness is somehow "caused" by genes- inherited.

But in constrast to popular belief, research indicates that genetic influences in mental illness is NOT an "either/or", unalterable mechanism like inherited blue or brown eyes.

These physical characteristics are laid down before the birth and unless you use hair colourant or special contact lenses, your hair or eye colour cannot change.

In mental illness, genetic influence is hotly debated. However it is generally accepted that genetic make-up accounts for only one INPUT into the person's mental make up. Genetic input into mental illness amounts to a "predisposition" to experience a certain maintained illness, in the presence of a number of factors, including social, environmental and physical influences. These influences INTERACT.

Genetic input in mental health difficulties might be best described as a risk factor or predisposition, NOT an iron-clad determinant.


In Ireland about one in twenty people suffer from depression at any given time. Being depressed does not mean you are mad or different from society in anyway, though it is very common for people who suffer from it fo feel as if they are. It is an illness like any other and has often been referred to as the "common cold of mental health problems."

No one is sure what exactly causes depression because the reasons for it can vary widely from person to person. These reasons can range from, or be a combination of biological, genetic, psychological and social factors. Traumatic events in life can open up a tendency towards it, while on the other hand, depression can occur even when life is going well. If you break a leg, it is easy to see what the problem is, because it is visible and easily defined. However, because depression remains unseen, it is difficult for people to understand what a person who is suffering from it, is experiencing.

Recognising Depression

These are some of the main features of depression

Prolonged low mood

Loss of appetite

Sleeping too little or too much

Poor concentration

Mood changes

Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed

Lack of energy/Always tired

Thoughts of suicide/self-harm

Not coping as well as usual

Difficulty in doing the smallest activities


A person with depression will usually experience some though not all of the above. If depression occurs on more than one occassion, it is common for the same symptoms to present themselves each time. This is useful to remember because these symptoms can act as an "early warning" system for the sufferer.

Acheiving Good Mental Health

There are a number of different types of mental illness, each with distinguishing characteristics of its own. As far as the layman is concerned, the individual names and symptoms are more confusing than helpful. What we need to know primarily is what constitutes good mental health, and more importantly how to achieve it.

How does the person who is enjoying good mental health think and act? Here, according to mental health experts are some of his characteristics.

He has emotions, like anyone else, but they don't explode for little or no cause. When he gets angry, his anger is in proportion to what caused it. He doesn't fly off the handle for odd or slight reasons.

He experiences fear, love, hate, jealousy, guilt and worry- but he isn't overcome by any of them.

He gets satisfaction from simple, everyday pleasures.

He gets disappointed, but not so crushed by disappointment that he can't pick himself up and start over again.

He doesn't underestimate his own abilities. He feels able to deal with most situations that come his way.

On the other hand, he knows he has shortcomings and can accept them with getting upset. He knows how to laugh at himself.

He expects to like and trust other people and assumes that they will like him.

He is tolerant of others's shortcomings just as he is of his own. He doesn't expect others to be perfect, either.

He doesn't try to push other people around and doesn't expect to be pushed around himself.

He is capable of loving other people and thinking about their interests and well-being. He has friendships that are satisfying and lasting.

He can identify himself with a group, feel that he is part of it and has a sense of responsibility to his neighbours and fellow men.

He handles problems as they come up. if he cant change something he doesn't like, he adjusts to it. He plans for tomorrow with being afraid of what's coming.

He's open minded about new experiences and ideas.

He tries for goals he thinks he can achieve through his own abilities; he doesn't want the moon on a silver platter.

He does whatever he tackles to the best of his ability. If the result is not perfect, he doesn't fret about it, just tries to do better next time. He enjoys his work.

what do you think? Respond by e-mail

SOLAS: The Light after Darkness

Depression comes to most people at different stages of life. It can be sparked off by a number of reasons- it can come from buried childhood trauma, a sudden death, stress in the home, work or from school.

Depression can be a life time of medication, of being admitted to a Mental hospital - and this is where the stigma comes into play. If someone is physically sick, everyone seems to rally round and help in someway but if you are classified as having a mental illness people are ignorant to the fact that its as crippling or even more so. They are apprehensive of getting involved so this makes the depressed person feel isolated, vulnerable and very lonely. Many doctors haven't the time or the resources to accommodate the people that are in more ways of needing care.

I have had the experience for many years of fighting depression on my own, but not anymore. My counsellor and doctor referred me to Solas which means light. Solas was founded by the Monaghan Community Mental Health team which identified that while the statutory psychiatric services were doing a good job, there was a need for an on-going support following disengagement from the service.

Solas sprang up in January 2001 from nothing, in a room that was filled with second hand furniture and carpet at Old Rooskey, Monaghan. Some of the funding came from the local Mental Health Association, Monaghan County Council and the North Eastern Health Board.

Solas means light for many people like myself it is the light in the midst of darkness. I was very apprehensive the first time that I went but with a few pushes in the right direction from the practice nurse and the Counsellor, I finally picked up the courage to walk in and the feeling of apprehension slowly went away as I started to chat and was greeted by the same people as myself at different stages of recovery.

There are highly qualified psychiatric nurses who seem to understand how you are feeling as soon as you walk in. They take the holistic approach to helping and try to compliment the medical model of recovery and to identify with the whole person rather than just the mental illness.

The people that I associate with come from many backgrounds and care for each other as much as the nursing staff. Many of the people that have been referred to Solas in the beginning are now volunteers helping you to share what's troubling you on that particular day, making coffee, answering the telephone or just sitting beside you and holding your hand while you cry.

Solas also tries to help these people to find work and to integrate on the outside be referring them to FAS, Freshstart, Obair etc, if its for education purposes they are referred to Dochas, the VEC etc. If any of them are homeless they contact the County Council, Urban District Council.

On one occasion that I happened to be in Solas, a gentleman needed accommodation urgently as he was homeless. The phone was picked up and calls were made and after a lot of work the facilitator took him into town and managed to get this man a council house, and went beyond her duty to make sure that it was liveable. Also they rang St. Vincent DePaul to make sure he was made as comfortable in his own private world and as secure as possible.

But it is not all doom and gloom. They don't just sit around and drink tea and cofee all day. There are different activities going on each day plus the hustle and bustle. There is art, reiki, creative writing etc, something different going on each day.

Solas is open from nine thirty until five in the evening but what I have found eocouraging is that the time you spend there, you can take off the many masks that you have to put on - outside in the world that surrounds you, and truly let so many of the feelings and emotions that erupt on many occassions be dealt with in strict confidence, trust, caring, supporting safety, that many of us find difficult to deal with in every day life.

There is still a lot of ignorance around about Mental Illness and still biased people. The argument against Mental Illness as I can see stems from this. A lot of so called "normal" people think that if they're left to their own devices and take their prescribed medication and pull themselves together that they will snap out of it, how dare they put them into local housing in communities where there are vulnerable children and where hard working decent people live, "if they are unstable they should be locked away".

Who's to say who's stable or unstable, all they need is positive people around them, giving them the care and support they most need. Every human being whether categorises as "stable" or "unstable" needs support and care at sometime in their lives. A lot of depressed people just want their own space to live a decent productive life. And with no outside support, the Psychiatric Hospitals are full of many people who if they had the support that we receive now, would be out living amongst us, for so many have become institutionalised with nowhere to go. That is one of the main reasons that Solas is there. It is the light at the end of the most frightening dark tunnel.

The other thing that I have against Solas is that there is not enough of these drop in centres. They should be in every town and city in the whole of Ireland, north and south. I think if there were more places like Solas, there would be far fewer suicides. I know that I will be forever grateful to my counsellor and doctor for giving me the encouragement to take the step of finding the support that I most needed, for it could have been the last chapter in my life but now with Solas supporting me, the true light of so many like me, a new chapter of my life is starting to emerge.

Solas Resource Centre

Old Rooskey House

047 72930

Why I Am A Member of IAN

Someone recently asked me, why I am a member of the Irish Advocacy Network. I thing that they meant," What a lot of trouble, and often progress is so slow." I see it differently

The people are great. Some of the best people I've ever met to be honest

They've all been where I've been, so they really understand. No one has every given me silly advice like "try to shake yourself," or "We all get blue Mondays" (but what do you do about blue months or years?)

The training is great- you learn a lot, but its also great craic. It isn't just what you learn, but the confid- -ence you find in yourself. Since I left school, even before as things got so bad, I felt different from others, not good. I even knew that I was intelligent, but that did seem to matter. After the major breakdowns and times in hospital, my confidence was destroyed.

At long last, after some really hard work over the past three years by Mervyn and Paddy in particular, we have an office up and running with staff including Regoinal Advocates. Do people realise that we elected a Steering Group in Derry at the Voices conference in 1999, we hadn't a penny, not even to reimburse people for bus fare for attended meetings. This had to be begged or borrowed( we drew the line at stealing!) Hats off to all those who believed in it, gave up time with their families, attended meetings when they didn't feel well enough or the weather was terrible. We really ACHIEVED something, and we've only just begun.

About three times a year, not matter what I try to do to stave it off, I get severe depressions. I can't do anything for 3 weeks at least. My friends in IAN are there for me, supporting me, keeping me going through the darkest hours.

We are at an exciting time now. With Regional Advocates in place, advocacy is getting into the hospitals and day centres througout the land. Small groups are forming, with plans for advocacy training. With more advocates trained, we can all do something. And don't forget we need non-advocates to support the Advocates!

FINALLY: Why am I involved? Self-defence! We need each other. If there aren't peer advocates to defend me if I get ill then who will? If the Irish Advocacy Network isn't there to push for changes in legislation and practice, who will be? I can get very ill just as anyone else, and I want to do my utmost to ensure I'm not detained and given ECT against my will.

The way I see it, we all hang together, or we all hang seperately!

Poets Corner

Twelve Different Lifetimes

Twelve different lifetimes,
and twenty-seven years,
One hundred empty vodka bottles
and forty million tears,
Far too many lonely nights
and not enough good friends
Countless miles on empty roads,
that only brought dead ends.

There were times I slept with strangers
in badly lit hotels
Curled up as they left quietly
with their exotic smells,
There were times I kissed the crashing waves
in the naked light of dawn,
Times I couldn't find my soul,
There were times I lost it all...........................


I will still be living
Long after my death
I will scream defiantly
With my last breath
The last one standing
With my back to the wall
I will get back up
When all around me fall

I will not be quiet
As the rage burns inside
I will not run away
I will not hide
I will not be a phoenix
That continues to rise
I refuse to be a victim
In anyone's eyes.

My soul is eternal
And I know I am strong
I will defy anyone
Who says this is wrong,
I declare war on those
Who poison my mind,
Because I have a power
That cannot be defeated..........


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