You get up in the morning, you pull on your socks and your underwear, you select your clothes for the day and face yourself in the mirror while you brush your hair. Almost ready but one thing is missing. Carefully you adjust your expression so that you are smiling. This smile covers a myriad of thoughts and feelings, an ocean of pain. But it is part of your daily uniform; the most important part perhaps. Your friends and colleagues greet you with their own smiles, ask how you are doing. You are doing great, never better! They are equally upbeat! And thus dozens, hundreds, thousands of people begin their day; smiling, putting on a brave face.
But it is for this reason that we are shocked when tragedies befall our communities. The heartbreaking events that occurred in Cavan last Sunday night/Monday morning are just one shocking example of how we can seem so together, so okay but we are battling against very dark forces inside. It is believed that Alan Hawe took his own life along with the lives of his family. To most of us this is something beyond our comprehension. Indeed the community in which this family lived is in a state of shock as the family were widely known and widely liked. Mr. Hawe was a fine member of the community; quiet and gentle. The family were spotted that day out and about. Nobody suspected anything like this would occur.
It has since emerged that Mr. Hawe had a history of mental health difficulties although no further details have been given. Commentators took to social media to express their distress at a father killing his own family. Most people cannot even fathom a father who could do this. Some, however, reasoned that no matter how happy they seemed we just don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. This is the problem with mental health issues.
A smile can mask the reality. We have all had those bleak days when we really don’t feel up to facing the world yet we fetch out our smiles, paste them on and keep going. We tell everyone that we are fine. As a society we are told to buck up, put on a brave face. dry those tears etc. and we have just become too damned good at pretending. Mental health issues are, unfortunately, too easy to disguise. We cannot hide a broken limb but a broken mind can too easily be dismissed. We sometimes don’t even realise ourselves how tattered we are or how broken as we are too used to just getting on with our lives. I have dealt with stress and anxiety and it is easy to fool even yourself that it is no big deal. We compartmentalize things and bury feelings we don’t want to deal with.
We need to start really, really talking about mental health at every level. Yes it is easier to reply with a smile and a ‘Oh I’m fine’ when asked how you are. But what if, one day, you allowed yourself to drop the act? What if we all allowed ourselves to be more open and honest? It would take courage and a lot of getting used to but unless we become more open about mental health than tragedies like Cavan will keep on occurring. And we will keep on being taken by total surprise.