In this installment of Our Stories, Operations Manager, Igol McIntosh gives us an insight into his life after his mental health diagnosis… For many people, Jamaica is pictured as an island paradise – white sandy beaches, a beautiful and vivacious culture, rich and wholesome food and attractive people. And while that image is not far from the truth, if the lens are focused on the inspirational stories of ordinary Jamaicans, you would find a sharper, richer and truer image of the Jamaican experience… this is Our Stories!

Every day, people in Jamaica and the world by extension go about their daily lives, completely undetected to be struggling. On the outside everything seems normal, however, on the inside there is a battle going on. They are fighting mental illness. Whether it is depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, they are all very real. Despite their severity, “pull yourself together,” “cheer up,” “do not worry about it,” are things said by family members, friends, and loved ones to persons dealing with mental illnesses. What these people do not understand is that living with any mental disorder is not this simple. That is almost like telling a person with no legs to run a marathon – you simply cannot ask someone who is unable to walk to get out of bed. It is both surprising and alarming the number of myths and stigma that are still around today regarding mental illness. They are slowly being talked about and education is increasing however these are all at a snail’s pace.

Meet Igol McIntosh – Operations Manager

We had the pleasure of meeting with Igol McIntosh, whose personal story will provide a first-hand look at the challenges and triumphs associated with managing mental illness. Igol wants others like him to know that they are not alone and that there is light at the end of every tunnel. By discussing openly, he hopes to increase understanding around mental health, break the stigma and take the taboo out of something that – like physical health – affects us all.

What is it like living with mental illness?

I believe all individuals experience some form of mental illness throughout their lifetime. I can openly say that I suffer from anxiety attacks which I face mostly when I am on the job. Being in charge of an operation that is performance-based, one aspect of my responsibilities entails me having to answer to a lot of persons especially when the business is not performing. This is sometimes difficult and results in my anxiety acting up. However, as a responsible and conscientious individual, I have ensured that I have surrounded myself with responsible persons who can and have been looking out for my best interest. They ensure that I am kept in check especially when they recognize that I am overly-stressed. Having this type of support system has proven to be very valuable and beneficial to me.

What is your specific diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. There are times when I feel terrific, better than I ever had and then other times I drown in depression. I am constantly aware of it and trying to stay well and steady takes a lot of effort.

People, as well as social media, have sensationalized mental illness, why do you believe there is such a stigma associated with mental illness?

Having lived in Jamaica my entire life, I strongly believe that mentally ill persons are stigmatized because our society lacks the basic knowledge as to how to identify and treat these conditions. This is basically as a result of that fact that not enough emphasis is being placed on the causes and effects of being mentally ill and what social media can do to help to either add or subtract from this condition. That is just my opinion.

If you do not mind sharing, what is one occurrence that you have experienced which impacted your mental state significantly?

Being raised in an environment where my father was verbally and physically abusive to my mom… [it] had a significant impact on my life and mental health on a whole.

During that time, was there any type of activity that you participated in to lift your spirit?

I made it my duty to ensure that I went to university and excelled at whatever degree I was pursuing. The very mere fact that I was improving myself gave me a sense of fulfillment.

I can imagine. Would you say living with this condition has shaped you into who you are today? 

Living with this disorder has taught me many valuable lessons for which I am grateful for so yes, it has absolutely helped to shape me into the man I am today. One significant lesson I learnt was humility. These days, I find pure and expansive joy in the most ordinary things.

That is great to hear. To date, what would you say has been one of your biggest accomplishments, whether professionally, academically or personally?

Being able to provide for my family and having everyone live a comfortable life is my number one accomplishment. My school years were not always sunshine, I had some extremely cloudy and rainy days, however, I am pleased to say I pursued a Bachelor of Computing with honours and further went on to attain my MBA.

That is amazing! How often do you feel satisfied with yourself and about your accomplishments?

In recent times, I have been getting a feeling of satisfaction quite often especially with the help of my therapist. I am also very elated to be able to work and provide for myself and my family.

I can definitely tell that you are a family man. Is there anything that you wish people understood about mental health and how can myself and others lend our support?

I strongly believe that our society needs more public education forums to help in educating everyone on the causes and effects of mental illness. Not to mention the different types of mental illnesses as we may have persons who are suffering from them and they have no idea that they are. Everyone should understand that mental illness is no one’s fault and for many people, recovery is possible especially when you start treatment early and play a strong role in your own recovery process.

We appreciate you taking the time to share your amazing story with us Igol. It was a great reminder that no matter what hardships we are faced with it is possible for us to come out stronger and a much better person.

Wouldn’t you agree that it is time for us as a society to recognize the signs and reach out to those we know are in need?

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