Written by See Change Ambassador Úna-Minh Kavanagh:
When I started college, talking about your mental health wasn’t on the cards. With phrases like “mad in the head”, “psycho” and “looney” being thrown around casually, there was a sense that this wasn’t something to talk about or you’d be branded “one of them” too.
I live with depression and anxiety and while in college I tended to keep to myself, never straying into THAT conversation for fear of judgement. There’s that horrible feeling of wondering if people think you’re whinging or people thinking that you believe that the world is all about you.
The irony of course being, that my fellow classmates were in exactly the same position as I.
Now through initiatives like See Change’s Green Ribbon Campaign each May, we’ve come to recognise the simply green bit of material as a sign of acknowledgment, understanding and openness. Fear may still hold us back, but seeing a glimpse of green on someone’s lapel can be hugely encouraging.
Since the beginning of the campaign a few years ago, I’ve worn my ribbon with pride. It’s now a symbol of what I’ve gone through over the years, but also in solidarity with the people who struggle every-single-day.
I can’t believe how lucky I am to have a support network that in one way has gone through my mental health battles with me. Through panic attacks, depressive spells and the complete feeling of unworthiness, the ups and downs of life can come in extreme waves.
They say that one in four of us will experience mental ill health in our lifetimes – but I think it’s far more than that. We ALL go through tough times.
But talking about mental health shouldn’t be something we let go until we’re at our most desperate. It should be a continuous conversation that can be a simple “how are you doing?” to “let me listen”.
You could be posting on social media about how great your life is or how grateful you are and in truth you could be sending out desperate pleas for help. In my darkest hours I could seem totally “normal” and wince anytime someone casually said that someone wasn’t quite “right in the head”.
These simple conversations can help not just ourselves but also peers to understand how important it is to look after our mental health, just as much as our physical health. It’s the stigma that can ruin your life more than your mental health, it can prevent you from talking and getting the vital support and help that you need.
While the health service has still a long way to go in terms of providing support for those living with mental health issues, it’s heartening to see that we’ve moved on, where open conversation is encouraged now more than ever. A few years ago I wouldn’t have dared to say that I was mentally in a bad place or not doing well, now I have far more confidence.
See Change’s Green Ribbon campaign has given people the courage to take that step forward and talk to people with an open mind and an open heart. Long may this continue – let’s end mental health discrimination.
Journalist, Travel Blogger, Food Writer and Mental Health Ambassador for SeeChange.ie