The History of the Irish and Mental Health

As March comes around and we celebrate St Patrick’s Day, the team at LMHA are reflecting on our attitudes as an Irish culture towards mental health. We have come a very long way as a society in terms of how we interact with mental health and this is something to be very proud of.

Historically, mental health was not something to be talked about in Ireland. This was due in part to the strong religion of the country, which was largely Catholic. The Catholic Church played a huge role in shaping societal norms in this country, and its influence has extended to so many aspects of Irish life. 

The prevailing cultural attitudes, deeply rooted in Catholicism, contributed to a society that was conservative, traditional, and resistant to change. Within this context, mental health issues were not openly discussed or acknowledged. The conservative values of the time tended to view mental health as a taboo subject. The attitude was that personal struggles, including those related to mental health, were to be dealt with privately, if at all.

Ireland’s struggle for independence also left a legacy of trauma and collective suffering in the country. Many individuals who had endured the hardships of that era may have carried emotional scars, but the culture at the time discouraged expressions of vulnerability. The emphasis on resilience and stoicism further fueled the culture of silence surrounding mental health.

Moreover, the lack of understanding and the absence of effective mental health care created further challenges for those faced with psychological distress. People with mental illnesses were often marginalised, isolated, or confined to institutions, as society lacked the knowledge and resources to support them.

In more recent times, a greater effort has been made to destigmatize discussions surrounding mental health and to increase the support and services available.

There has been a notable shift in attitudes towards mental health in Ireland. The stigma surrounding mental health issues has been gradually eroding, and more people are speaking openly about their experiences, thanks to public awareness campaigns and advocacy groups. The Irish government have improved access to mental health services. Many initiatives aim to provide better mental health care and reduce suicide rates. Progress has been made in making services more widely available. There are many services and charities available in Limerick for those who require them.

The family continues to be a crucial support system for individuals dealing with mental health issues. The strength of Irish family bonds remains significant, and often plays an active role in helping loved ones through difficult times. The Irish also have a strong sense of community. Communities have the ability to offer a strong support network for those in need of it. 

However, there are still some areas and challenges that need to be addressed and improved upon. One of which is the rural-urban divide. Remote rural areas often have limited access to mental health care, while urban areas, bigger towns and cities benefit from better infrastructure and better public transport. This discrepancy emphasises the need for better access throughout the country.

While it is important to recognise what is yet to be improved upon, it is important to recognise how far we’ve come as a country, in terms of our cultural attitude towards mental health and that is something us at Limerick Mental Health Association hope Irish society continues to do.