A couple of months back I met with the lovely Communications Officer of See Change, an organisation working to change minds about mental health problems in Ireland. We had a chat about the work that See Change do, and how I might be able to join in. Part of what See Change do is support individuals and groups in raising awareness in their own communities about the stigma around mental illness . So I took a big deep breath, made a decision, and and contacted the organisers of my local Stephen’s Day fun run, Jog the Bog, which is a fund raiser for both the underage GAA and towards the creation of a community park

Ok, admittedly this first step wasn’t quite as scary as it could have been – a good friend is on the committee and she was my main contact. After that, See Change provided support in the form of ideas, info, banners, badges, bunting etc. All I had to do was make it happen.
Thank you See Change

The idea was a simple one – write the word ‘stigma’ on a large canvas, and then ask people to literally stamp it out, by walking across it with paint on their shoes. Easy, right? Ha! On the day, I was literally terrified. Ok, I’ve been writing a lot, and my having a mental illness isn’t exactly a secret. But to go out there, myself, and talk to people about it?? A very, very different story. I was also nervous on the practical side of things – would it work? Would people do it? Would they get it? Would I end up getting paint all over the stand and piss off the entire Oughterard GAA??
As it turned out, my fears were (I think!!) unfounded. It all got a bit chaotic – I was trying to nab people in between returning from a run/walk on an extremely cold day, and get them to do their stamping before retreating to the safety of warmth, tea and cake. As with all events of this type, finishers trickled back initially, then came in a glut. I didn’t have much time to speak to anyone, and in the end, kept it short and impersonal – I just said that we were trying to raise awareness about mental illness and the stigma around it, how common it is, how damaging the stigma is, and that in reality mental illness is nothing to be scared of. I think the fact that it was in conjunction with the GAA was helpful considering the number of promient GAA players who have spoken about their own struggles with mental illness in the last few months. Everyone I spoke to was positive about it. Everyone I spoke to made their mark. Bitchface would like to have me believe they were simply humouring me, but today, I’m going to believe that I may just have sparked the start of a bigger conversation locally. I hope that I can continue this into the future, and that maybe, just maybe, someone who was there, who may be struggling in silence, won’t feel quite so alone any more. 
Oughterard’s artwork

This article has 4 Comments

  1. Well done Fiona, you are great and did very well on the day. You're really making a difference especially in the local community.

  2. Well done Fiona. All here at Oughterard GAA were delighted to be of any help. If it helps even one person it will have been worthwhile. You are very brave to talk about mental illness and put yourself out there. It couldn't have been easy.

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