November 29, 2012 by John Buckley
So a couple of months back I read this speech out terrified, alongside Alistair Campbell. The aim was to share our experiences of sharing…sounds funny, the over all aim is to ensure society is more open in relation to mental health and illness. So here’s what I said
“About 2 weeks ago, June. Michael and myself headed off into Newstalk’s studios to speak out, and carry the my ripple message to Sile Seoige’s Saturday Show. At the time I didn’t notice I had said it, but upon reflection I had. “It’s a privilege to be able to speak out about mental health”, I had said. I’m a big fan of reflective practice and about a day later I was just thinking back to the interview. “A privilege”, I said, I couldn’t believe I had said it, because I am so wrong. Speaking out about mental health should not be a privilege, it should be something we can all freely do, it should be part of the human condition, a part of being, a right, but so much more then a right. It should just be. But for thousands of people across the country it’s not possible due to the veil of stigma.
See Change ambassadors such as June and Michael, have bucked that trend, they’ve stood up to stigma and called it out. The experience for all of us involved in the campaign will of course be varied, but I wanted to offer you my take on it.
I’m going to try my hand at a metaphor, so bare with me. Shortly after joining the campaign in January 2012, I decided to get a tattoo, it was a personal mantra of mine (one that my father still does not know about). It came from a song about personal and societal struggle, and the song speaks about the tide. Ben Howard sings of “coming back down this mountain, strength of the turning tide”. This is what I’ve felt from the work of See Change, the turning tide. I surf, one of my positive mental health practices and trust me a turning tide is strong.
Ok so moving on from metaphors. What was it like going public with my own personal mental health experience? It was in many ways like first talking about depression to friends and family. It started nervously and unsure, but I felt supported. I remember heading into the recording studio in RTE with Evelyn, the producer, and I must admit I had a bit of a cry (only Evelyn knew that!!) It was different, it was speaking out on mental health not to get support for myself, but to try and encourage others to. I came away from the day though feeling empowered and looking ahead to what else may lie in store.
My hope, I feel along with others who got involved, was to make sure the stigma we faced could be broken. That’s why we’re here. And I was worried would anyone relate to what I had to say? I was particularly conscious of young men, would they be like “your man is an eejet?”. I suppose this was in some way answered when the most traditionally masculine of men from the north side of Dublin text me after hearing an interview I did … “you’ve got more balls then a snooker table” he said! I broke down laughing at this, but I realised a couple of things. One, people were relating to what we were saying and two, that yes it is a brave thing to speak out, but it shouldn’t be viewed as hard or going above and beyond, it should be natural.
I remember feeling at that point….wow, this is making a difference. During the campaign I did a fair few media interviews and consultation sessions, and I did find it tough. Some would wanted to know the gory details, “what was it like self harming?”, “what did people think of you in A and E?”, and again sometimes this brought more tears and I had to draw on my awareness and coping skills plus my support network to move past these times.
What also comes up, which I never realised, is the impact of the editors touch. Leaving family in or out of a piece, highlighting one word over another, not focusing on positive mental health but the shock story. My family and friends found this tough at times. But we got through that, because we knew what the bigger picture is.
These challenges came with the huge amount of support we’ve all had, from See Change. And I personally want to take this opportunity to take Sorhca Lowry from the bottom of my heart for her passion, empathy and hard work.
About a week ago, I saw the real impact of the My Ripple Campaign. I was choked up (more tears!) as I sat down for coffee with a friend. We were just chatting and they said they had started to see a councilor and we chatted about it, no big deal, I was so happy they were getting support. She turned to me and said, “I was thinking of you and those other people on the radio, and was like, sure if they can speak on the radio I can speak to someone”. This made me think about the Ireland we are going to create.
It’s an Ireland where we talk about mental health like the common cold. An Ireland when we say ‘how’s it going?’, we don’t just say grand. An Ireland where we engage in positive mental health exercises, just like your five a day. An Ireland that values our minds and souls, that cares and supports one another.
This is the turning tide that we all here are apart of. I can’t wait for the day where we no longer need see change ambassadors. Because that means we’ve made the ripple, we’ve gotten to a point where that veil of stigma is gone. We’re getting there, we can do it. If not, the people we care about won’t be there with us, and I personally am not willing to let that happen.
Being involved in this campaign has for me brought me closer to friends, yielded hilarious responses from manly men, resulted in a being asked out on social media, shown me another side to this country, provided tough questions from interviewers, an opportunity to meet amazing ambassadors and staff in See Change and contributed to my circle of friends and family being more comfortable with their mental health. This is only my perspective but it’s one I know we can mirror all over this country. And we are doing it. Everyone single one of the See Change ambassadors are an inspiration to me and I want to thank them for fighting stigma.
“Coming back down this mountain, the strength of a turning tide”. We are that tide. Thank you”