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10 Features A Friend indeed

Help is at hand from UCC’s Peer Support Leaders, writes Sean Bent.

If you’re not one of UCC’s brand new first years then allow me to take you on a trip down memory lane. Think back to an age long ago when you stepped into UCC as a student for the first time. There were many things vying for your attention that day. Your new class- mates demanded much of your time and rightly so as it’s important to make friends as early as possi- ble. There were several thousand gigantic buildings you struggled to learn the names of and assimilate into your internal map. Represen- tatives from different banks lured you into their damp caves with food and the promise free flights to Amsterdam. There were also some pretty strange people sporting red t-shirts who guided you around your new surroundings. Now, lock onto your hazy memories of those

guys and gals in red. These stu- dents stand out as more than just your tour guides. Each one of them is part of a project called uLink Peer Support and it’s their job to make your first year of university a lot easier.

ULink itself was set up under the Vice-President for Student Experi- ence, the Access Department and the Department for Student Coun- selling and Development in No- vember 2008 in order to develop a university-wide student support program. New first years are as- signed to a student in a higher year of study that will keep in regular contact with them and help with various issues as they arise. The Peer Supporters themselves are co- ordinated by Claire Dunne of Peer Assisted Student Support (PASS).

So what can your peer supporter

do for you? Anyone in first year can contact them via email to arrange a meeting to get help for many types of problems. Issues of an academic nature should be dealt with by relevant lecturers and de- partments and a supporter can put you into contact with them. Other help uLink peers offers ranges from something as simple as show- ing you how to work the PCs for your Blackboard notes, showing you where a certain building is or lending a kind ear to a troubled mind. Peer Supporters are trained listeners who help put things into perspective for you and layout your options. If they are unable to help, they can put you in contact with relevant student services that offer help for your particular prob- lem. What students in first year often find particularly comforting is that this help comes from some- one just like themselves: a student of a similar age who has mastered the hurdles your first year of col- lege can present through experi-

Meat and Greet

Deputy Features Editor Karen O’ Mahony investigates the thin line between creativity and insanity, and the his- torical ‘psychiatry versus arts’ debate

It was hard to escape the recent media furore created by Lady Gaga. Images of her in her “meat” dress were splashed across almost every newspaper and magazine with people intrigued to find out if it was indeed a dress crafted out of slabs of raw meat.


squirmed at the idea of wearing raw meat. People criticised her for sending out a bad image. But more than all that, people questioned her sanity. How could a normal and sane person wear an outfit made of raw meat?

Cynics might say that it was all

a publicity stunt- and it may well have been. However, it once again ignited the age-old debate of where creativity ends and insanity begins. As American actor and comedian, Oscar Levant, once said, “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.”

The image of the tortured artist is well- established in everyone’s minds. Their creativity excuses a multitude. Flying into demonic rages at the drop of a hat, moping around morosely for days on end and perpetrating heinous acts of vi-

olence were all pardoned in the past on the sole basis that these people were creative geniuses. Those inconvenient quirks of char- acter were a small price to pay for the arts.

However, if you take a closer

look, you realise that many of those supposed eccentricities were actually poorly-understood psychi- atric problems. Some of the great- est actors, writers and artists in history are all said to have been af- flicted by psychiatric problems. With mental illness only becoming acknowledged and understood in recent years, it is only now that we can look back at historical figures and see that their eccentric and ir- rational behaviour was very likely borne out of psychiatric problems.

Historians now believe that both

legendary composer, Beethoven, and artistic genius, Michelangelo, suffered from bipolar disorder (previously called manic depres- sion), whereby the person suffers from alternating periods of depres- sion and mania. It’s thought that these episodes of mania fuelled their creativity and were responsi- ble for the magnificent works

which rendered them famous. Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens,

Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Spike Milligan, John Keats and Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd are oth- ers who are revered for their cre- ative genius. What do they all have in common? Psychiatric issues. Kurt Cobain was, according to many relatives, diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. Lithium, the popular Nirvana song, is actu- ally a drug used to treat bipolar dis- order. While one can only make assumptions about the health of historical figures, recent sufferers give us a better knowledge.

American singer-songwriter

Nina Simone once fired a gun at a record company executive because she thought he was stealing from her. On another occasion, she shot her neighbour’s son with an air gun as his laughter disrupted her con- centration. It was acknowledged in later years that Simone had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia.

Scientific research has reinforced the link between creativity and psychiatric problems. Brain scans have shown marked similarities between the thought pathways of people with schizophrenia and

ence. Also, anything communi- cated between you and a Peer Sup- porter is confidential. What you say to him or her will not be dis- cussed with anyone else.

Many of the Peer Supporters are

linked with societies. Even if you haven’t gotten involved with any particular society from the outset, there’s no need to let this stop you joining it at some point during the year. If your assigned Peer is not part of one you’d be interested in, just say it to him or her and they can refer you to a supporter who is. Most societies have at least one student representing Peer Support. The Peers involved with a society can meet with you and introduce you to the important people who, believe me, will be more than happy to have you on board and make you feel welcome. Societies are a great way to meet like- minded people who can become some of your closest friends.

Your assigned peer supporter will be in contact with you soon

September 28th 2010

via email. If you wish to get into contact with your Peer Supporter, simply go to ulinkpeersupport/whoweare and check which supporters are linked with your course. Three courses are not currently linked to a peer but if you are in one of these then feel free to contact anyone else on the list. Any and all of them will be glad to help you out. If, for your own reasons, you should decide at some point that you would prefer to change peer supporter then you also have the freedom to do so at any time. Again, simply log onto the website and contact anyone on the list or alternatively you can contact Claire Dunne of PASS by phone: 021 420188 or via email:

I wish you all a brilliant time

here in UCC. Hopefully you will all find the coming year both intel- lectually challenging (but reward- ing) and, most importantly, fun! Never forget that there is always someone there to listen and help.

people deemed to be highly cre- ative. Creativity is known to be as- sociated with a greater risk of schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder. Few people re- alise that periods of creativity are actually very similar to milder manic episodes. Your thoughts are coming to you quickly. You can see connections between ideas and concepts that someone else may be unable to see. You may be irritable, consumed by the thoughts and ideas rushing through your head at the speed of light. So, are you crazy or just being creative?

You have to wonder what

comes first. Is it the psychiatric problems themselves which lead to greater creativity or is it the burden of creativity that affects the mind? It was only in recent years that Heath Ledger died from a drugs overdose shortly after completing filming on The Dark Knight. Spec- ulation was rife that the emotional toll of delving into such a dark, twisted and psychopathic character plunged Ledger into a dark depres- sion and reliance on prescription drugs which ultimately lead to his demise.

On the other hand, it could be

argued that the psychological dis- turbances lead to greater creativity. Edvard Munch, creator of the renowned painting, “The Scream”, was regularly subjected to psychi- atric hospitalisation. However, when offered treatment which would relieve his problems and re- duce his time in hospital, he re-

fused on the basis that it would af- fect his creativity. It is impossible to tell exactly what links creativity with psychiatric disturbance but they are undeniably closely inter- twined. Someday it may be better understood but, until then, we can only speculate...and continue to be baffled by the likes of Lady Gaga!

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