Gildernew reveals mental health battle

Michelle Gildernew pictured during the Westminster election count.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has spoken of her battle with depression and how having to stand down from her roles in Stormont impacted on her mental health.

Friday, 16 November 2012
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In an interview with the Impartial Reporter newspaper, she said that she first experienced bouts of depression 20 years ago.

She confessed that at times she has "felt like I couldn't cope with the world outside".

"It took all your energy to get dressed and get out the door. In the middle of it all you were dealing with other people's problems as well as your own. There were many days I didn't feel like going out the door," she said.

She said her struggle began years ago when she broke her ankle and became "detached from the world''. Then when her beloved grandmother passed away her depression deepened.

I didn't know there was something wrong, nor did the people who knew me best. I knew I was tearful, emotional, irritable and very tired. Every day was a struggle, every day. You didn't know if you had the energy to get through the day.

Michelle Gildernew

It was only when Ms Gildernew spoke to a friend of hers, who had suffered from depression, that she realised that she too was suffering from mental health problems. She then sought advice from her GP.

But her mental health problems have surfaced again in recent times when she broke her leg in January, after which she said her 'isolation' surfaced again and she felt "really low".

Earlier this year Ms Gildernew was dealt two blows to her political career when she was asked to give up the jobs she adored so much - chairperson of the health committee and her seat at Stormont.

"Giving up the chair of the health committee wasn't my decision and yes, that probably did have an impact (on her mental health). I was also in the DEL (Department of Employment and Learning) committee and hadn't a lot of help," she said.

"I would have preferred at the time to have got the help and support I needed to keep going, but I would have been putting off the inevitable. In the long-term it was probably best for me and my family."

On leaving Stormont, Ms Gildernew admitted her last day "was like a wake" but said she was hopeful that it would "turn out for the best".

"Our last day was really tough, it was like a wake; people were calling in from other parties, my own staff members.You couldn't take two steps without someone saying; 'We'll be sorry to see you go'. It definitely was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster."

I miss the structure of Stormont. I was there for 14 years and there was a routine, I do miss that.

Michelle Gildernew

"If I hadn't fallen in January and broken my leg then suddenly being chair of the health committee one week and then being told; 'You're out of here' would have been harder for me," she said.

"I think, mentally, it helped prepare me for leaving the assembly in June."

Following a spate of suicides in her constituency, she said the community as a whole must work harder in breaking the stigma of mental health.

She added:"We must work at teaching all of us, adults included, about building resilience and coping skills and about how to recognise the symptoms in yourself and going for help.

"I am OK, I will be OK, but a lot of people out there are not and they need to speak to someone."