Mental health and mixed messages

I’ve long been a fan of Bruce Springsteen’s music, and was aware of some religious elements in his work – for example those traditional Gospel songs he recorded for his Seeger Sessions album. In fact at one stage one of his guitars featured an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, an image that adorned his website for a while.

Now, as reported in last week’s The Irish Catholic, it seems a US college, Rutgers in New Jersey, is to offer a course on the theology of his music. On Monday of last week, course teacher Professor Azzan Yadin-Israel was interviewed on the John Murray Show (RTÉ Radio 1). It was too short an item and only Springsteen’s early work was considered. The professor identified religious symbols and motifs in The Boss’ early lyrics and reckoned he was, in a rebellious way, reversing or even subverting the traditional imagery he encountered as part of his Catholic upbringing. Of course it’s all down to interpreting imagery and it’s often impossible to know the writer’s intentions.

On a more serious note I was impressed by two items from Wednesday of last week, both on Today With Sean O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1). Professor Jim Lucey, Medical Director of St Patrick’s University Hospital, spoke about how the economic pressures of the recession were putting such a strain on people’s mental health, sometimes leading to depression and suicide. Lucey pointed out that the same phenomenon was evident in other recession-affected countries, like Greece, with increases in suicide, homicide and even infectious diseases.  Interestingly, he pointed out that in Iceland, which had by plebiscite rejected austerity the same effect was not evident. Lucey seemed to be challenging our cultural and societal response to the recession. He instanced the case of a teacher who inherited a large sum of money and regarded it as the unluckiest event of his life as it led to failed investments and massive debt. He tried to commit suicide by jumping off a pier but fortunately some bystanders saved him (no ‘assisted suicide’ there) and now he is grateful for that intervention, recovered and back working. Now, as Lucey put it, “the mental and social capital of his life is far greater than his debt”.

Also on that show, the effects of alcohol on mental health and suicide was aired. John Higgins from Ballina told the upsetting story of how he lost his son David, who went off enthusiastically to a party and suffered a death recorded as ‘drink-related suicide’. He thought that low alcohol prices were “ridiculous”.  Fr Pat Seaver from Limerick, who has ministered to many families affected by suicide, agreed that alcohol was a huge factor, even in children as young as 15. He was concerned about the ‘glamour’ associated with such funerals, with other young people considering suicide a ‘brave’ move and actually planning details of what they’d like at their own funerals. 

How important it is then that the story of inspiring teenager Donal Walsh from Kerry with his plea to young people to value life continues to receive publicity. Newstalk’s Breakfast Show returned to it last Thursday morning when Finbar, Donal’s father was interviewed. Donal died of cancer but his message lives on in his newspaper article, in several videos and in the ongoing work of his parents in spreading the message ( 

How horrible to hear in news reports, later on Thursday, that Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore was calling for Dáil Éireann to take on legislation on ‘assisted suicide’. What kind of awful mixed message does this send out? Does he not realise the influential and educative effect the law has?

And that was relevant to the discussion on Newstalk’s Today show (with Shane Coleman standing in for Pat Kenny) last Friday when Fr Peter McVerry argued for the legal control rather than criminalising of drugs. He said what we’re doing now isn’t working (though you could use that argument for any crime that’s ongoing), and that legalising drugs, even heroin, for registered users would undermine most of the criminal market. Coleman suggested that many users would not want the exposure of registering and would still look for supplies from criminals and also that such a move might normalise drug abuse. It’s worth considering, but I wasn’t convinced by Fr McVerry’s arguments, and can’t see the public being happy with a resource starved HSE supplying cheap or free heroin.



Pick of the Week


Fern Britton Meets… Susan Boyle

BBC 1 Sun Dec 1, 10am

Fern discovers how Boylesí strong Catholic faith has helped sustain her during the rocky times.


Film: Of Gods and Men

BBC 4 Sun Dec 1, 10pm

(2010) True story of monks stationed with an Algerian community, but under threat from terrorists. Highly recommended.


The Radharc Squad

RTÉ 1 Thurs Dec 5, 11.15pm

The story of the Radharc team and its role in the evolution of Irish television and culture.