Upon reading about the death of Rachel Peavoy from hypothermia in her corporation flat in Dublin, I was filed with dread for the future of those living in poverty in Ireland. When we look to what values a society holds dear, Ghandi’s contention that you can judge a society by how it treats its weakest members seems particularly poignant in light of this young woman’s senseless death.
The fact that this young woman’s death failed to make the news in our national broadcaster speaks volumes about what is important in Ireland. Why is one young woman’s death treated with hourly updates bordering on the macabre while another’s is blithely ignored? While the structural and societal cause of this tragedy will hopefully receive considerable interrogation in the coming weeks, I was particularly motivated to write about it due to the report of her death in the Irish Examiner and the Herald. The closing line in the piece on Rachel’s death was ‘The victim, who had a borderline personality disorder, also suffered from back pain.’ Why had editorial chose to include this piece of information on the young woman given that it has nothing to do with the circumstance of her death?
The individualist understanding of this case will be that Rachel in some way facilitated her own demise, that she was in some way culpable or responsible for freezing to death in her own home due to lack of heat. The insinuation created by the addition of information on Rachel’s mental health is noteworthy on a number of levels.
Firstly, mental health is still, despite efforts, heavily stigmatised in Ireland. Borderline personality is not the defining criteria for anybody’s life, no diagnosis is; it adds nothing to the story. The story is that of a young woman, a mother of two children, who froze to death in substandard accommodation. Her mental health had nothing to do with it. By including this information in the piece it serves to legitimize the treatment of this tenant. Irish media is particularly good at picking up at any perceived psychological shortcomings in those whose stories do not make for easy reading. I have yet to read anything of the psychological health of those who ran our economy into the ground.
Secondly, a diagnosis is just a label, and it is a label that for some facilitates access to services and support that can help. A diagnosis does not define a person; there are many labels that Rachel could have had applied to her life: a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, all of these as important or relevant for the piece as the snide inclusion of her mental health diagnosis. It was a parting kick to the article, to remind readers that all is well in the world as long as ALL are well.
Mental health is not a static entity, it fluctuates, it ebbs and flows, it is a process not an end game; a past difficulty does not denote a flux at the time of her death, she was competent enough to bring her children somewhere warm and safe, but thought of herself as stronger and more capable. When she put the key in her door she was returning home. Who among us does not prefer our own bed? To drop the remark about Rachel’s mental health in the article serves only to widen the gulf between those who do and those who do not have to strive for flow and balance in respect to their mental health.
Rachel died from freezing to death in her flat in Ireland in 2011.