What do you do when you suspect that a friend or family member may be struggling with their mental health? Do you tell them straight to their face? Do you discuss it with another friend and get advice on how to broach the issue? Has it become so serious that this person is a threat to themselves or to others? These are very difficult questions to answer however I will shine some light on the matter of mental health both for your friends and loved ones and mental health in the community. When do you need to step in to prevent something serious happening and when is it ok to let the individual go through the process themselves?

Unfortunately and probably not surprising this area of mental health is something that everyone needs to be very careful with. So much so that many of the articles you will find will be quiet ambiguous when dealing with the issue of – when do we need to intervene?

Under the Mental Health Act in Ireland, if a person is deemed a threat to themselves or to others in their family or community, they may be involuntarily admitted against their will to a psychiatric hospital. This is sometimes referred to as being ‘sectioned’. Reportedly and admittedly a traumatic experience encountered by many people who have struggled with their mental health at some point in their lives. If mental health issues were not enough, being brought into a psychiatric hospital against ones own will must be traumatic however in many and I would suggest in most cases it is in the persons best interest and I would even go as far as to say that it may be life saving and the beginning of the road to recovery for many people – a long road, no doubt.

What if the mental health issue is not as serious in your view? Many do not know if a situation is serious or not and that can often be a problem as there is no action taken. What may be serious in one persons eyes may not be so serious in another persons view. For example, one person may say “They will get on with it” where another person may say “This person needs help”. At the end of the day, awareness and education around mental health in the community is paramount and mental health first aid should really be thought in all schools across Ireland in order to notice the warning signs when they do appear.

So, in order to tackle the uncertainty in families decisions to intervene with mental health issues – there must be more education around mental health in the community and in particular mental health intervention. As difficult as it is for the individual being involuntarily admitted or ‘sectioned’, it is undoubtedly equally traumatic (although in a different way) for the family members who may have to make the call for emergency services and have a loved one admitted to hospital against their will. I do believe that if there was more knowledge out in the public sphere as to what an admission to hospital entails, than it would allow for a more confident approach in knowing when to intervene. In relation to statistics, involuntary admissions count for a very low percentage of admissions to psychiatric hospitals in Ireland and all over the world. Therefore, it is often the worst case scenario to have to be admitted under these circumstances. So, the question remains, how do we know when it is serious enough?

The definition, as stated above, says that when a person is a danger to themselves or others, than they may be admitted involuntarily following a psychiatric evaluation by a consultant psychiatrist. However sometimes it is difficult to gauge whether a person is, in fact, a danger to themselves or others. I cannot comment on the complexities of peoples mental health as a whole however I would suggest that evaluation may be the safety net that someone needs especially if they are willing to be evaluated themselves. It can surely get quiet complicated if the person is not willing to be evaluated in which case I would recommend always seeking advice from your family doctor.

As for my opinion on how we, as a society, can reduce mental health admissions to hospital – I believe that mental health in the community is most important in terms of early stage prevention. Earlier interventions such as talk therapy or psychotherapy would be something I would advocate as well as family and community support.

However, as mentioned above, education and awareness are two vital aspects of having the correct support systems. For example, your local football or hurling coach could and should by all means by trained in Mental Health First Aid and I am aware this is becoming more common which is fantastic. Similarly, people in contact with members of the community should also be trained as a pre-requisite to qualification pathways in their profession eg. Taxi-Drivers, Doctors, Teachers, Hairdressers, Barbers and so on.

People in contact with the public need, of course to have education but more importantly, must have compassion for others. This is coming from someone who is passionate about mental health but also passionate about improving the community as a whole.

The more compassionate we can be with ourselves and with others, the more we can build a greater community.