herald

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Mindfulness classes to help TDs deal with distressing problems

Sean O Fearghail
Sean O Fearghail

Mindfulness classes will be offered to TDs and senators amid fears they are not looking after their mental health.

The sessions in Leinster House will be aimed at helping politicians cope with the pressures of the job and the often distressing stories they hear from constituents.

Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail said politics had become "a fraught business", adding that politicians had replaced priests as go-to people for families in difficulty.

Intense

"Pressures in constituencies can be intense. Members, all too often, don't look after themselves," he said.

The chair of the Dail compared the situation with the warnings on planes that pass-engers should put on their own oxygen masks before attending to children.

"The truth is, you have to be able to help yourself before you can help other people," he said.

Mindfulness is about training the mind to focus on the moment and relieving stress. It is usually done through meditation.

It is not clear what level of take-up there will be for the classes, which will also be available to other staff working in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Mr O Fearghail said it was important for TDs to look after their mental health if they were to help constituents deal with "very complex problems".

"When I started out in politics, people would come to talk to you about potholes or planning permissions, but there are deeply personal issues coming now," he said.

The Kildare South TD cited indebtedness as a "huge issue", along with homelessness, mental health problems and people wanting to access support for children with disabilities.

"You'd want to be made of stone not to have those stories impact on you," he said.

"I would have had people in my office talking about suicide, talking about being sexually abused as children, about only now being able to talk about it. People suffering abuse in the family home.

"Thirty years ago, they probably talked to the priest, or they'd talk to their doctor, but politicians now tend to hear these problems."

Mr O Fearghail said TDs, senators and their staff "need to be equipped to deal competently with this".

"We need to be able to encourage them to go to the right places to get the help and support they need," he said.

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